We Are Sunshine

TODAY’S HEADLINE STORY: Dr. Bernard Ackerman, prominent dermatologist who challenged his peers about melanoma, dies at 72.

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Dr. Bernard Ackerman — a pioneer in the field of pathology for dermatologists who was himself an avid suntanner and believed strongly that UV light exposure is not related to melanoma incidence — died of heart failure at the age of 72, The New York Times reported Thursday.

2008-12-12-ackerman-copy.jpgAccording to the Times, “He often argued for unpopular positions. Recently he expressed strong skepticism that exposure to sunlight causes melanoma, saying the case was not proved. He also lamented what he saw as a trend toward overtreatment of benign skin conditions.”

The Times quoted Ackerman from a 2005 interview in which he stated, “There has been a mania for taking off these moles that are of no consequence. We’re talking about billions and billions of dollars being spent, based on hype.”

Earlier this year Ackerman released the second edition of his book exploring the history of dermatology’s mistakes in proclaiming a UV-melanoma connection — a book in which he enthusiastically proclaimed that the International Smart Tan Network’s position on moderate UV exposure and sunburn prevention is more justified than positions taken by the Skin Cancer Foundation, the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Cancer Society.

Regarding Smart Tan’s Position — which he quoted extensively in his book, “The Sun and the ‘Epidemic’ of Melanoma: Myth on Myth” — Ackerman said plainly, “They Got It!”

Ackerman, who has more than 700 published papers and studies to his name in a career that dates back to 1962, founded the International Society of Dermatopathology and is founder and director emeritus of the Ackerman Academy of Dermatopathology, training pathology students on dermatology related work. He was an advocate of evidence-based medicine and has been highly critical of the dermatology industry’s over-blown, unsupported allegations that any and all sun exposure should be avoided.

He believes Smart Tan has done a better job advocating the whole truth about melanoma than the Skin Cancer Foundation, the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Cancer Society. “Paradoxically, business sometimes is more academic than academe,” Ackerman said, citing this portion of Smart Tan’s Position:

“What About melanoma skin cancer? Melanoma is the only form of skin cancer that is aggressive with any regularity. But you need to understand this clearly: Melanoma skin cancer does not fit the mold of other skin cancers for the following reasons:

• Melanoma is more common in people who work indoors than in those who work outdoors.

• Melanoma most commonly appears on parts of the body that do not receive regular exposure to sunlight.

• Heredity, fair skin, an abnormally high number of moles on one’s body (above 40) and a history of repeated childhood sunburns have all been implicated as potential risk factors for this disease. But because people who receive regular exposure to sunlight get fewer melanomas, blanket statements that ultraviolet light causes melanoma cannot be made. Indeed, some studies have found that an individual’s susceptibility to sunburn, and not the actual sunburn incidence itself, is the risk factor. Further, most studies on indoor tanning have not shown a statistically significant connection between commercial use of tanning equipment and an increased risk of melanoma.

That is important, considering that most of the studies did not account for confounding variables such as outdoor exposure to sunlight, childhood sunburns, type of tanning equipment utilized and duration and quantity of exposures. (What’s more, European studies on this topic do not account for regulations in place in the United States governing maximum exposure times for people of all skin types.)

So the professional indoor tanning industry is doing its part to help individuals of all skin types minimize their risks by teaching them how to avoid sunburn at all costs. We are promoting smart, moderate tanning for those individuals who can promote a tan.”

Of Smart Tan’s position Ackerman wrote, “They got it! But the Skin Cancer Foundation, like the American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Dermatology, does not get it.”

Ackerman slammed those groups for taking money from sunscreen manufacturers in exchange for their endorsement of those manufacturers’ products — a relationship he believed compromises dermatology’s academic integrity.

To read The New York Times full story on Ackerman click here.