We Are Sunshine

TODAY’S HEADLINE STORY: Melanoma’s Relationship with UV Light is Complex, Misunderstood

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Most in the photobiology community believes that ultraviolet light exposure is somehow related to melanoma skin cancer. But that doesn’t mean that any data have ever connected moderate tanning in a non-burning fashion with melanoma.

2008-05-21-oversimplified.jpgThat’s the mistake being made by most in the dermatology lobbying community today — a mistake that conveniently benefits those who sell and market the over-use of sunscreen products.

What is commonly missed in discussions about this topic is that nobody has presented data to date to explain exactly how this relationship works or why the relationship is actually inverse when studying indoor workers and outdoor workers. Indoor workers get more melanomas than outdoor workers, which would be impossible if there were a direct relationship between sun exposure and melanoma. What’s more, confounding data on this association are being left out of the discussion.

The photobiology community is in agreement that the main identifiable risk factors for melanoma are as follows: heredity, fair skin, an abnormally high number of moles on one’s body (above 40) and a history of repeated sunburns early in life. These factors, independent of non-burning adult sun exposure habits, appear to place an individual in a higher-risk category for melanoma. What hasn’t been established by data is that indoor tanning has any connection with melanoma skin

  1. There is no actual data substantively linking indoor tanning equipment with an increased risk of melanoma skin cancer.
  2. The reported increase in melanoma incidence in the United States may be largely explained by an increase in surveillance — there are 85 percent more dermatologists per capita today than there were 30 years ago, and surveillance efforts are much more robust. Further, melanoma mortality rates for women under age 50 have been declining for 20 years in Canada and the United States, according to government data in both countries.
  3. There are other risk factors involved in melanoma. Until dermatology’s lobbyists come clean on this, they are part of the problem
    — not part of the solution.

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