On February 1, 2004, Medical News Today published a summary of recent research finding in the United Kingdom (UK). Chairman of the UK Skin Cancer Prevention Working Party stated “telling people to avoid the sun entirely is draconian and unnecessary.”
Stop telling people to avoid sun – say cancer experts
A reversal of official advice on the dangers of the sun was called for yesterday in what could lead to one of the biggest revisions of a health warning in decades. The head of Britain’s drive to cut soaring skin cancer rates said the advice to restrict sunbathing is ‘draconian and unnecessary’ and should be lifted.
For at least a decade, doctors have warned sunbathers that ‘there is no such thing as a healthy tan’. Now, Dr Neil Walker, chairman of the UK Skin Cancer Prevention Working Party, an umbrella group of more than a dozen professional organisations, says the warning is counter-productive.
‘The phrase ‘no such thing as a healthy tan’ is one way of getting the message across that sun damage can lead to the development of potentially fatal skin cancers. I think we need to look at this again. I think telling people to avoid the sun entirely is draconian and unnecessary.’
Dr Walker, consultant dermatologist at the Churchill Hospital, Oxford (UK), said millions of people went on holiday every year with the aim of getting a tan and telling them to stay out of the sun invited ridicule.
‘There are a lot of people [on the working party] who have this almost religious conviction about the dangers of the sun. My view has been that we have got to try to look at things practically. But the zealots rule at the moment.’
He added: ‘There may be an argument that there is no such thing as a safe tan but it is not an argument that works. We have to find a way of putting the message across about what is the most damaging behaviour, which is why I tell my patients not to bake or burn.’
But some experts say the benefits of the sun have been underplayed. Sitting in the sun is enjoyable and relaxing, makes people feel better and stimulates production of vitamin D, which may protect against a range of diseases.
Professor George Davey Smith and colleagues at the University of Bristol (UK) said in a paper in the British Medical Journal in 1999: ‘For many people the small absolute increase in risk of melanoma could easily be outweighed by the effect of reduced sunlight on mood.’
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