Comments by David J. Weslake

I just ready an article written by Naunidhi Kaur from October 23, 2005 entitled “A Beautiful Brown, at What Cost?” In the article she talks about Eva Robertson who is fair skinned redhead with moles all over her body developing melanoma on her back. Then all of a sudden the article takes a bizarre twist… trying to illustrate that there is some sort of connection between her developing melanoma and having spent time on a beach during summers. Yet according to the American Cancer Society, the causes of melanoma are still far from established!!!

The causes of melanoma are still far from established, and there remain many unanswered questions about the exact relationship of sunlight exposure to the development of skin cancers. Exactly how much ultraviolet light constitutes a safe level of exposure is a legitimate topic for scientific debate. For example, according to the American Cancer Society, "We do not yet know exactly what causes melanoma …but we do know that certain risk factors are linked to the disease….Some risk factors, such as smoking, can be controlled. Others, like a person's age or family history, can't be changed. But having a risk factor, or even several, doesn't mean that a person will get the disease" (ACS 2004).

The benefits of sunlight and vitamin D for the development of healthy bones have long been known: a Nobel Prize was awarded for discoveries relating to the importance of vitamin D as early as 1928. But what has only fairly recently been discovered is that, in addition to its role in bone metabolism, vitamin D may also help prevent a variety of cancers. San Diego scientists Drs. Cedric and Frank Garland argue that colon cancer could be prevented by sunlight. The Garlands went further, however, showing that "brief, regular exposure to sunlight was probably beneficial in preventing melanoma, while either too little or too much exposure was potentially harmful" (Moss 1992, citing Garland 1990).

In February 1998, an epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Dr. Marianne Berwick, presented a careful analysis of sunscreen use and skin cancer at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She concluded that sunscreens may not actually protect against skin cancers such as melanoma. In her own words: "We don't really know whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer." Berwick first looked at four studies of squamous cell cancer, a skin cancer that is destructive but not frequently lethal. Two of the studies concluded that sunscreen protected against a precancerous skin condition while two others reported that sunscreen did not shield people from this condition. She then analyzed two studies of basal cell carcinoma, another generally non-lethal skin cancer. Those two studies found that people who used sunscreen were actually more likely to develop basal cell cancer than people who did not.

It is commonly believed that exposure to sunlight leads to skin cancer, including deadly melanoma. No one believes this more ardently than leaders of the dermatology profession. For example, a leading dermatologist, Roger Ceilley, MD, has proclaimed, "We're going to have millions more cases of skin cancer in the next decade" if people forgo sunscreen (Fackelmann 1998). Yet the relationship may not be that simple. There is evidence that a moderate amount of unblocked sunlight is actually beneficial to most people, reducing the risk of many diseases – including, paradoxically, melanoma itself. For example, in often-cited research on US Navy personnel in San Diego, researchers from the University of California School of Medicine found that more melanoma occurred among desk workers than among sailors who worked outdoors (Garland 1990).

Hopefully I have presented some evidence here that will help make Naunidhi Kaur consider the validity of her article. The real story here isn’t really that sun causes cancer, after all society has been bombarded with this message for the past 30 years or so, but rather that sunlight may PREVENT cancer. Using sunscreen religiously and avoid the sun may be causing many unnecessary health problems


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