BENGALURU: As the country is experiencing extreme heat, oncologists are pleading with climate change experts, politicians and the public to take note of the increasing UV Index. In all, 27 of 31 districts of Karnataka, including Bengaluru, are showing UV Index readings of 12, which is considered "extreme". The UV Index for Dharwad, Kolar , Koppal and Raichur is 13 and for Yadagiri it is 12.5.
Only in Ramanagara it is 11, but experts said even here it hits 12 in some parts of the day. The index indicates the amount of skin-damaging ultraviolet radiation expected to reach the earth’s surface at a time when the sun is at its highest (around midday).
"We only look at how weather is, but don’t talk about the UV Index. Skin cancers were rare in tropical countries like ours. But now, we are definitely seeing an increase due to high UV exposure," said Dr US Vishal Rao, Dean, HCG Cancer Research Centre and Hospital.
He has been continuously studying the risks of UV exposure and the harm it could cause to our body.
He explained that the current rate at which the rivers and lands are drying, temperature rising and climate changing, Indian cities too are contributing to the chart of risky UV Index globally. With this, skin cancers, sun burns and cataracts are on the rise, claim doctors.
The highest incidence of skin cancer is reported from Australia, where the high-UV, harsh sun affects the Caucasian population.
"Skin cancers in India used to be rare as higher levels of melanin pigment in our skin mitigates the impact of UV rays. But now skin cancers are on the rise,"said Dr Narayana Subramaniam, Consultant and HOD, Head and Neck Oncology, Shankara Hospital.
What is UV Index?
The World Health Organisation devised the UV index in 2002. Depending on the range, it gives an idea as to how careful you need to be in the sun. A score of 1 or 2 is low, 3 to 5 is moderate, 6 or 7 is high, 8 to 10 is very high and 11 and above is extreme.
Skin irregularities must be evaluated
There are two kinds of UV radiation: UV-A and UV-B, which contribute to skin damage, ageing and skin cancer. UV-B is high when the index reads 'extreme' which becomes the major cause of sunburn, cancer and cataracts too.
"Though cataracts are caused due to normal ageing process, overexposure to UV rays too can lead to cataract formations earlier than normal. In Andhra Pradesh and border areas, every second or third person has cataract at the age of 50 itself," said Dr K Bhujang Shetty, Chairman, Narayana Nethrayalaya. UV-protected eyeglasses will help avoid this, he added.
Dr Narayana said any new skin irregularities, like spots, roughness or discoloration, need to be evaluated.
On the timing and damages it can cause, Dr Abhiram R, Consultant Dermatologist, Vasavi Hospital, said, "UV-A and UV-B peak between 11.30 am to 1.30 pm and it is the highest between March and October. Short-term damage to the skin can be sunburn and suntan. This can later change to pigmentation. Long-term causes can be photo-ageing and photo-carcinogen, leading to risks of skin cancer."
He said that as physical protection, people can use umbrellas, eyeshades, brim hats etc. Also, sunscreens with SPF 30 to 50 are advised. One should apply sunscreen 20-30 minutes before going into the sun, and keep applying it once every two to three hours.
Dr Mathangi J, Sr Consultant, Radiation Oncology, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital
According to the latest ICMR study 2021, the nonmelanoma skin cancers are slowly rising in the northern and eastern parts of India. The study states that in the Northeast part of India witnessed the highest incidence of skin cancer which is merely 5.14 for males and 3.98 for females. However, males in the East, had slightly greater incidence of 6.2.
The reasons are UV radiation exposure, high arsenic contamination in the river ganges basin apart from their probable genetic predisposition. In a study from Punjab it is found more common in rural agricultural women with highest lifetime sun exposure.
Reducing the UV radiation exposure (sunlight), avoiding harmful chemical exposure and getting frequent skin checks will help us in prevention and early treatment of such diseases.