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Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Print version ISSN 0042-9686

Bull World Health Organ vol.80 n.9 Genebra Sep. 2002 

Guide to skin cancer prevention launched

WHO's global ultraviolet project, called Intersun, has published a practical guide to protection against skin cancer and cataract blindness that can be caused by over- exposure to sunshine. "Very simple and inexpensive protection measures, such as wearing a shirt, hat, sunglasses and sunscreen, and seeking shade during midday hours, can significantly reduce the risk of these conditions," Intersun advises. "Such measures could eliminate up to 70% of skin cancers in several countries."

Between 2 and 3 million non-melanoma skin cancers, as well as at least 132 000 malignant melanomas, occur globally each year. The incidence of skin cancers has risen significantly since the 1970s. Increased sun-seeking behaviour is thought to be the main cause, and it is compounded by depletion of the ozone layer, which provides a protective filter against ultraviolate radiation.

In 1997 WHO and other organizations designed an educational tool called the Global Solar UV Index. The United Nations Environment Programme, the World Meteorological Organization, the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, and the German Federal Office for Federal Protection collaborated in this international effort. The index measures ultraviolet radiation levels at the earth's surface, indicates the potential for skin damage, and provides advice on protective action.

Ultraviolate index values are grouped into exposure categories of low, moderate, high, very high and extreme, with corresponding colour codes. Icons indicate the appropriate action to take. See Intersun's website at