17 October 2007

Satellites Against Skin Cancer

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Sun is bad for our skin. Even if we are aware of this, it is hard to resist wanting a suntan. For this reason, melanoma occurrences have been steadily rising in Europe since 1930

Sun is bad for our skin. Even if we are aware of this, it is hard to resist wanting a suntan. For this reason, melanoma occurrences have been rising steadily in Europe since 1930. In the past two decades, about 60,000 new cases have been reported each year. European researchers have recently created a server, known as “SoDa”, which provides accurate data about solar radiation and enables oncologists to know the exact level of their patients’ exposure since childhood.

This concerns Northern Europeans above all. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, part of the United Kingdom and The Netherlands all show a high rate of melanoma occurrence. In Southern Europe levels are relatively low. This disparity is related to both skin composure and social behaviour.

“People from Mediterranean countries know all too well that over-exposure to the sun is unhealthy and they protect themselves better. On the other hand, people from Scandinavia usually have paler skin and tend to spend more time in the sun during their holidays”, explains Jean-François Doré, Research Manager at INSERM in Lyon.

Eastern and Northern Europeans have the same skin tone yet Polish and natives of the Baltic States were not concerned about skin cancer during the Cold War period. Since then – having adopted a more ‘Western’ lifestyle - they more frequently spend their holidays in the sun with heavy exposure.

In the fight against this pandemic, a new server known as SoDa will be a key weapon. Created by a team of twenty European researchers, it can calculate, in a few seconds, the level of solar radiation anywhere in the world.

Solar radiation

How strong was the solar radiation in Brighton in August 1960? Or in Rome? SoDa can give the answer. Thanks to this brand new technology, oncologists will have almost instant access to accurate information about their patients’ exposure to the sun and, consequently, can better advise on courses of treatment.

Lucien Wald, Head of the SoDa project, gives us a concrete example: “Imagine you live in Denmark and you’re about to spend your holiday in Southern Italy where solar radiation is extremely strong. With a few clicks on SoDa, your oncologist will be able to find the types of UV A and B radiation you’ll be the most exposed to, and on which beaches at certain times. Armed with this information, we can limit your risk of developing cancer.”

Using SoDa is quite simple. The user connects to the website ‘www.soda-is.com’ and locates his or her city on the world map. In a few seconds, SoDa will provide information about the solar radiation of that particular city.

Partly financed by the European Commission, SoDa is of one the few technologies offering information on solar radiation. An equivalent has been developed by Canada and the US although this is considered less precise.

Even though SoDa is more advanced than the US and Canadian version, the ideal solution would be cooperation between the SoDa consortium and NASA to create a form of ‘Worldwide SoDa’ for all to share.

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