Facts About Skin Cancer and Sunshine

The following is an excerpt from The UV Advantage by Dr. Michael F. Holick, Ph.D., MD, Professor of Medicine, Dematology, Physiology, and Biophysics - Boston University Medical Center. IBooks 2003.

Skin Cancer Facts and Fallacies
Many myths are associated with skin cancer thanks to the barrage of public misinformation on this topic.

The Fallacies

Any and all sun exposure causes skin cancer.
UVB radiation from sunlight is thought to be one of the causes of non-melanoma skin cancer-especially chronic overexposure to sunlight. However, science doesn't fully understand what the connection is. Because humans can't live without UVB radiation, this statement needs to be questioned.

Sun exposure is the main cause of melanoma. There is no scientific evidence that regular, moderate sun exposure causes melanoma. As the FDA observed after a 1995 conference on melanoma, the relathioship between melanoma and sunlight is baffling. Melanoma is seen more often in people who do not receive regular, moderate sun exposure than in those who spend time in the sun. Melanomas also usually occur on parts of the body that receive no sun exposure. There is also evidence that UVB-protection-only sunscreens may distort the UVB/UVA ratio that penetrates into the skin, thus contributing to melanoma development.

We are in the midst of a skin cancer "epidemic." It is inaccurate to call the increasing incidence of skin cancer an epidemic. Skin cancer rates have been rising steadily since the early twentieth century.

Skin cancer rates are going up solely because more people are sunbathing. Although skin cancer rates have been rising steadily since the early twentieth century, it wasn't until the 1960s that a tanned skin was conisdered desirable. Present-day people actually spend less time outdoors than did our forebears, most of whom worked the land before the industrial revolution. Working outdoors throughout the year probably helped previous generations build a resistance to sunburn in the form of tanned skin. More recently-especially inthe 1970s and 1980s, when a severe sunburn was considered a prerequisite for an eventual simmer tan-people have become more likely to get sunburned, which is thought to be one of the main causes of melanoma. In addition, the use of UVB-protection-only sunscreens probably contributed to the rise of melanoma because they promoted massive exposure to UVA.

There is no such thing a safe tan. Tanned skin protects you against sunburn, thought to be the main cause of melanoma. Also, it's more dangerous to avoid sun exposure completely that it is to get regular, moderate sun exposure. If you avoid getting sunburned, the benefits of sun exposure will far outweigh the possible dangers. Independent scientific research has shown that if you live in a sunny climate, or if you live in a not-so-sunny climate but expose yourself to sun, then your increased production of vitamin D due to UVB radiation will help lower risk of a host of debilitating and fatal diseases.

Tanning is like smoking to your skin. Wrong. Tanning is natural. It is your body's natural defense against sunburn. Smoking is an unnatural habit that your body rejects by becoming ill.

The Facts

Sun exposure may actually prevent cancer.
Numerous published studies show that regular, moderate sun exposure helps prevent several forms of skin cancer. Cancer rates in higher latitudes, where there is less sun exposure over the course of the year, are higher than in sunny climes. Furthermore, both men and women who live in higher latitudes who make an effort to be exposed to more sunlight decrease their risk of getting these common, lethal, cancers.

Cancerwise, the benefits of sun exposure outweight the risks. Non-melanoma skin cancer has an extremely low death rate. In the United States, it claims about 1,200 lives a year. Colon, prostate, and breast cancer-which together claim about 175,000 lives-can in some cases be prevented by regular, moderate sun exposure. People who get regular, moderate sun exposure are less likely to get a malignant melanoma than those who don't.

It's a scientific fact: If you get regular, moderate sun exposure, you have less chance of developing malignant melanoma. New research shows that melanoma is more prevalent in Europe and North America than in the equatorial latitudes, which again suggests that reulfar sun exposure may prevent melanoma. At the very least, moderate sun exposure will not increase the risk of melanoma.

Dr. Holick's book, The UV Advantage, may be purchased at any Sundays Tanning Resort location or though his website: http://www.uvadvantage.org where additional information is also available on this important subject.

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