We Are Sunshine

ABC News misses the real story in its anti-tanning story

Friday, August 1st, 2008

ABC News on Wednesday perpetuated the false allegation that melanoma incidence is increasing fastest in the teenage population – a story that has rambled around the media for two weeks since the publication of a controversial letter to the editor in The Archives of Dermatology.

2008-07-31-more-sun-scare-tanningnews-copy.jpg“There is no doubt that the parties pitching these stories to the media have a political agenda, and they don’t mind spreading total misinformation in order to advance their agenda,” Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy said. “We have been responding to these media reports. But the tanning community may now need to consider stronger action.”

The ABC story – which perpetuated the false myths that tanning can be ‘addictive’, that any UV exposure is carcinogenic as well as the false inference that melanoma is rising fastest among teens – also quoted another dermatologists alleging that tans are not protective.

To read the ABC story click here.

Here is Levy’s response to the ABC story:

How is it that stories like these continue to highlight the wrong statistics? Melanoma is skyrocketing in men over age 50 – increasing 450 percent in the past 30 years. That’s the group least likely to tan. Look at the National Cancer Institute’s data yourself, as well as data in Canada, and you’ll find that melanoma mortality rates actually are declining in young women over the past 20 years. In Canada the incidence rates in that group have declined as well.

Stories like this one are looking at “reported” incidence rates, which are apples-to-oranges figures. Consider, in the past 30 years the number of dermatologists per capita in the United States has increased 85 percent and that those dermatologists market their services primarily to young women (botox is the fastest-growing dermatologic procedure). Now also consider that dermatologists admit they didn’t report melanomas to cancer registries in the 1970s, 1980s and even the 1990s as regularly as they do today.

That’s not apples-to-oranges – that’s apples-to-watermelons. It’s the most plausible explanation for why “reported incidence” is increasing in young women at a time when mortality rates for young women are actually decreasing.

And keep in mind that we don’t actually know how UV exposure is related to melanoma (melanoma is more common in indoor workers than in outdoor workers and occurs on parts of the body that don’t get regular exposure – both of which couldn’t be true if the relationship were as straightforward as anti-sun lobbyists try to say it is).

Regardless, none of that explains why the dermatology community is targeting young women for fear-based campaigns and totally ignoring the group most likely to contract and die from melanoma: Men over age 50. It’s time for cooler heads to prevail on this issue – there’s something seriously wrong when the purveyors of “sun scare” are sweeping confounding information under the rug as if it didn’t exist.