Climate Change and Skin Cancer

Skin cancer up 13% in Texas, with studies linking global warming pollution to increased UV exposure

Darius Hajibashi


While walking to class at UT, I noticed an unexpected sensation on my neck: the sting of a sunburn. This caught me off guard as I am not someone who typically burns easily. I can hardly remember the last time I experienced a sunburn, let alone from a walk that only lasted ten minutes. This experience led to my curiosity about whether there was a relationship between climate change and the number of skin cancer cases. After further investigation, I learned that studies have linked the two, by 1) potentially increasing ultraviolet (UV) radiation, 2) heat exacerbating the impacts of that UV radiation,  and 3) warmer winters leading people to spend more time outside. 

Skin cancer cases in Texas are on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) cases have increased 13% in the past 4 years.

UV radiation is a key factor in skin cancer development. Studies have shown that the ozone layer may thin due to greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane, reacting with “other gases to form water vapor, which then breaks down into other chemicals that destroy ozone.” This results in more UV radiation permeating the atmosphere, magnifying its carcinogenic effects on the skin. 

And heat can make that radiation even more dangerous. Dr. Eva Parker, assistant professor of dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told the American Journal of Managed Care, “past research has shown that UV radiation is more effective at creating tumors at higher temperatures [which means that] ‘there’s the possibility that rising temperatures could amplify the induction of skin cancer by UV radiation.’ With this in mind, the recorded “Texas temperature trend [of rising by] 0.63℉ per decade,” as stated in Texas A&M’s Extreme Weather in Texas, 1900-2036, could foreshadow the future increase in skin cancer cases in Texas. In addition, experiments on mice have shown that UV radiation’s carcinogenic potency escalates by 5% for every degree Celsius, emphasizing that increasing temperature will increase cancer formation.

Warmer temperatures in the winter also encourage people to spend more time outdoors. A study completed in the UK states that “winters get milder and the average temperature increases, the total time spent outdoors and, hence, the UV exposure [also] increase.” How this could play out in Texas is unclear, as people spend less time outdoors amid the summer’s brutal temperatures, potentially leading to no net increase in exposure. 

The nexus between climate change, methane emissions, and skin cancer demands a comprehensive response. Addressing methane emissions is crucial to mitigate the feedback loop that worsens climate change and amplifies the risk of skin cancer. One immediate opportunity for reducing methane emissions in Texas is the implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Methane Rule, which will be finalized this fall. Simultaneously, fostering awareness about the interconnectedness of these issues can drive behavioral changes, primarily by adopting sun protection measures. By advocating for sustainable practices, curbing methane emissions, and prioritizing skin health, we can tackle the issues posed by climate change.


Darius Hajibashi


Find Out More