The effects of exposure to solar radiation on human health
Photochem Photobiol Sci.
Date : Mars 2023
This assessment by the Environmental Effects Assessment Panel (EEAP) of the Montreal Protocol under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) evaluates the effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation on human health within the context of the Montreal Protocol and its Amendments. We assess work published since our last comprehensive assessment in 2018. Over the last four years gains have been made in knowledge of the links between sun exposure and health outcomes, mechanisms, and estimates of disease burden, including economic impacts. Of particular note, there is new information about the way in which exposure to UV radiation modulates the immune system, causing both harms and benefits for health. The burden of skin cancer remains high, with many lives lost to melanoma and many more people treated for keratinocyte cancer, but it has been estimated that the Montreal Protocol will prevent 11 million cases of melanoma and 432 million cases of keratinocyte cancer that would otherwise have occurred in the United States in people born between 1890 and 2100. While the incidence of skin cancer continues to rise, rates have stabilised in younger populations in some countries. Mortality has also plateaued, partly due to the use of systemic therapies for advanced disease. However, these therapies are very expensive, contributing to the extremely high economic burden of skin cancer, and emphasising the importance and comparative cost-effectiveness of prevention. Photodermatoses, inflammatory skin conditions induced by exposure to UV radiation, can have a marked detrimental impact on the quality of life of sufferers. More information is emerging about their potential link with commonly used drugs, particularly anti-hypertensives. The eyes are also harmed by over-exposure to UV radiation. The incidence of cataract and pterygium is continuing to rise, and there is now evidence of a link between intraocular melanoma and sun exposure. It has been estimated that the Montreal Protocol will prevent 63 million cases of cataract that would otherwise have occurred in the United States in people born between 1890 and 2100. Despite the clearly established harms, exposure to UV radiation also has benefits for human health. While the best recognised benefit is production of vitamin D, beneficial effects mediated by factors other than vitamin D are emerging. For both sun exposure and vitamin D, there is increasingly convincing evidence of a positive role in diseases related to immune function, including both autoimmune diseases and infection. With its influence on the intensity of UV radiation and global warming, the Montreal Protocol has, and will have, both direct and indirect effects on human health, potentially changing the balance of the risks and benefits of spending time outdoors.