We Are Sunshine

Press reports on skin cancer study confuse cause-and-effect relationship to unfairly slam UV exposure

Friday, August 29th, 2008

Wide publicity this week of a study suggesting that non-melanoma skin cancer patients are more likely to develop all other forms of cancer has falsely made it appear that the skin cancers are causing the other cancers.

“The logical leap in all the stories we’ve seen in the past 24 hours is conspicuous,” Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy said. “The study unveiled a correlation, which does not mean the connection is causative. It’s like saying that people in line for hot dogs at a baseball game are twice as likely to be hungry as those in the seats, and therefore the line is what’s making them hungry.”

2008-08-28-chicken-or-egg-tanningnews-copy.jpgIn fact, those promoting the study could have turned it around the other way: It’s possible that non-melanoma skin cancers could be caused, in part, by the same genetic factors that put people at increased risk for other forms of cancer.

“Instead the study is being used as a sounding board for dermatologists to suggest that this is another reason people should avoid the sun,” Levy said. “That seems like they’ve taken liberties with the old adage about what comes first: the chicken or the egg.”

US News & World report, in its coverage of the study, reported, “In addition, people need to protect themselves from UV exposure, so they don’t develop skin cancer in the first place, (American Cancer Society Skin Cancer Advisory Committee Chairman Martin) Weinstock said.”

Most other major news agencies coverage of the study was similar.

US News & World Report also quoted Dr. Robin Ashinoff, a dermatologist at New York University Medical Center, New York City, as saying that the inability to repair DNA damage associated with non-melanoma skin cancer may make developing other cancers more likely.

“It is not unreasonable to suppose that patients with non-melanoma skin cancers, especially if diagnosed when the patient is young, puts that person in a higher risk category of systemic cancers,” Ashinoff told US News.

The study — conducted by Medical University of South Carolina researchers in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University — was published in the Aug. 26 Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The study reported that the incidence of cancers was 293.5 per 10,000 person-years in those with skin cancer, compared to 77.8 per 10,000 in those with no skin cancer history.

To read the press release issued by the National Cancer Institute on the study click here.

To read US News & World Report’s coverage of the study click here.