We Are Sunshine

HEADLINE STORY: More evidence that UV and melanoma might not be related

Monday, June 15th, 2009

JUNE 15, 2009 – The reported increase in melanoma incidence may not be related to ultraviolet light at all, but rather our ability to better detect and remove thinner lesions than in years past, according to a British research team.

2009-06-15-statistical-lies2.jpgIn a study in The British Journal of Dermatology this week, researchers said “diagnostic drift” — and not UV — appear to be inflating reported melanoma incidence numbers without affecting a corresponding increase in mortality data. The study is titled “Melanoma epidemic: A Midsummer night’s dream” and appeared in the journal’s on-line pre-print last week.

The research team was from Norfolk and Norwich Universities. They looked at 3.971 melanoma cases between 2001 and 2004.

“The large increase in reported incidence is likely to be due to diagnostic drift which classifies benign lesions as stage 1 melanoma,” the research team wrote in their conclusion. “This conclusion could be confirmed by direct histological comparison of contemporary and past histological samples. The distribution of the lesions reported did not correspond to the sites of lesions caused by solar exposure.”

The researchers continued, “These findings should lead to a reconsideration of the treatment of ‘early’ lesions, a search for better diagnostic methods to distinguish them from truly malignant melanomas, re-evaluation of the role of ultraviolet radiation and recommendations for protection from it, as well as the need for a new direction in the search for the cause of melanoma.”

Similar papers have been written in the United States. An Emory University research group pointed out in a 1997 paper that melanoma incidence was increasing, but mortality from melanoma was not — something that is statistically unlikely and that the cause of the increase in “reported” incidence likely was related to better ability to detect lesions today than in years past.

And a founding figure in dermatopathology, Dr. Bernard Ackerman, has written the same thing in his books, “The Sun and the ‘Epidemic’ of Melanoma: Myth on Myth.” Ackerman believed UV and melanoma are not related at all.

In Canada, both incidence and mortality for melanoma have been decreasing for 20 years for men and women under age 50.

Smart Tan in 2004 conducted an analysis of U.S. government melanoma data and detected the same pattern here in the United States — that mortality data are not increasing in ways consistent with what “sun scare” groups often promote. “This new British study is making the same point we’ve been saying for years — that the melanoma numbers don’t add up,” Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy said. “We’ll be examining this again more closely. It’s great to see other researchers picking up this work and running with it.”