Cancer Society’s Anti-Sun Ads Decried as Deceptive

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Despite the Cancer Society’s claims that skin cancer is caused by sun exposure, increasing evidence shows that sun exposure reduces the risk of all forms of cancer and that skin cancer is more likely caused by a diet lacking omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.  Further more, no evidence exists that show that sunblock or sunscreen lotions prevent skin cancer.

Cancer Society’s Anti-Sun Ads Decried as Deceptive

Studies point to omega-6 / omega-3 imbalance as a greater factor in skin cancer deaths; Excessive sun avoidance may raise overall cancer risk

by Craig Weatherby

We’ve reported on the increasing body of evidence indicating that overall, cancer risks are curbed by more sun exposure, not less.

There is no longer significant doubt that moderate sun exposure – short of suffering frequent, substantial sunburns – actually reduces cancer risk overall.

In fact, the reverse seems to be the case, as we report in elsewhere in this issue. New research affirms prior indications that many Americans – especially darker skinned people – lack sufficient vitamin D-generating (hence cancer-curbing) sun exposure.

The hypothesis that moderate sun exposure curbs cancer risks rests on abundant evidence that vitamin D probably ranks among the most powerful anti-cancer factors in the human body.

Key Points

  • Experts call Cancer Society’s pro-sunscreen ads unscientific and unrealistic.
  • Excessive sun avoidance could raise overall cancer death rates, due to resulting drop in vitamin D production in people’s skin.
  • Americans’ common omega-3/omega-6 intake imbalance may be a much greater risk factor in skin cancer.

Ads paid by sunscreen maker distort reality

Sadly, a summer-season ad campaign from the American Cancer Society defies the growing consensus concerning the causes of fatal skin cancers.

Sunscreen is certainly useful for preventing sunburn, which may be responsible for a small percentage of the relatively small number of fatal skin cancers that occur annually in the US.

Only fair-skinned people seem to run a substantial risk of developing skin cancer in response to the kind of daylong sun exposure hunting, gathering, and farming humans experienced throughout millennia of evolution, until very recently.

But it is not clear that sun exposure is a huge risk even for them, and there’s much less that sun is a major risk factor among non-fair folks.

The latest outrage against reason comes in the form of an advertising campaign from the American Cancer Society (ACS) that’s sponsored … silently … by Neutrogena: a major sunscreen maker.

This regrettable venture – whose anti-sun, pro-sunscreen message is intended, ostensibly, to reduce the risk of fatal skin cancers – could actually increase its largely female targets’ overall cancer risk.

Fortunately, medical reporters at many major media outlets interviewed leading skin cancer researchers, who disputed the misleading message being foisted on millions of women by the Cancer Society’s ads.

Cancer researchers excoriate anti-sun cancer ad

Under a headline that reads ““My sister accidentally killed herself. She died of skin cancer”, the American Cancer Society’s new public service ad shows a young woman holding up a photograph of a smiling blonde.

Appearing this summer in more than a dozen women’s magazines, the ad says that “left unchecked, skin cancer can be fatal,” and urges its female targets to “use sunscreen, cover up and watch for skin changes.”

But as The New York Times said about the ad, “The woman in the picture is a model, not a skin cancer victim. And the advertisement’s implicit message — that those who die of skin cancer have themselves to blame — has provoked a sharp response from some public-health doctors, who say the evidence simply does not support it.”

The two key points made by experts interviewed by The New York Times, ABC News, and others were these:

  1. While most cases of skin cancer (carcinomas) may be caused by sun overexposure, almost all of these cancers are innocuous and not life-threatening.
  2. Even obsessive use of sunscreen may not prevent the most dangerous kind of skin cancers, called melanomas.

In truth, by reducing blood levels of vitamin D, constant use of sunscreen outdoors could raise the risk of many common, dangerous malignancies, including ovarian, breast, kidney, and colon cancers.

These are the basic facts, gleaned from the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the World Health Organization (WHO), and leading academic researchers:

  • Skin cancer is responsible for less than two percent of all cancer deaths, accounting for about 11,000 of the 565,000 American cancer deaths recorded in 2006.
  • Nearly all skin cancer deaths stem from relatively rare malignant melanomas, which constitute only six percent of all skin-cancer cases.
  • Sunscreen does not appear to prevent melanomas – the rarest but most lethal skin cancers by far – in which genetic and nutritional factors appear to play greater roles than sun exposure. Evidence for a cause-and-effect link between excessive sun exposure and deadly melanomas is weak.
  • Among melanoma cancer patients, those who reported more sun exposure prior to their diagnosis enjoy higher survival rates, compared with patients who reported less prior sun exposure. (Schwartz GG, Skinner HG 2007)
  • Only one in five melanomas is estimated to be related to sun exposure. This estimate comes from Howard L. Kaufman, M.D., co-director of the MelanomaCenter at Columbia University. In contrast, the WHO estimates that between 50 and 90 percent of cases stem from sun exposure. However, clinical and lab studies don’t support the epidemiological data behind the WHO’s estimate.

As the authors of a recent review noted, “… recent studies have demonstrated the lack of effectiveness of sunscreen [in preventing melanoma]…”. (Garbe C, Eigentler TK 2006): These collective results make no sense if sun exposure is a major cause of melanoma.

How can we explain the glaring discrepancies in experts’ estimates of the sun’s proportionate role in causing melanomas, which range from 20 percent up to 50 or 90 percent? One possibility is that even if UV sunrays do not generally cause melanomas, heavier sun exposure among people with fair skin and those living in sunny climes could promote growth of melanomas initiated by other causes, thereby raising melanoma death rates in these groups.

We should stress that most deaths caused by generally non-fatal carcinoma-type tumors (only 20 percent of all skin cancer fatalities) appear linked to excessive sun exposure.

This is why research indicates that sunscreen can reduce the risk of this least-dangerous category of skin cancers.

But one must weigh the best sunscreens’ ability to reduce the already minuscule risk of death from skin carcinomas against three countervailing factors:

  1. The potential for increasing one’s risk of non-skin cancers, due to reduced vitamin D production.
  2. The unknown risks of the insufficiently safety-tested additives in sunscreens
  3. The substantial expense and hassle of doing what most dermatologists advise, which is to apply hefty amounts of sunscreen whenever one spends more than 20 minutes in the sun.

Dermatologists’ advice regarding sunscreen use and sun avoidance makes the most sense for fair-skinned folks, who lack UV-blocking pigment (melanin) in their skin, who can make extra efforts to get ample dietary vitamin D.

(Note: the most useful form of vitamin D is the D3 form found in animal foods like fish, not the D2 form found in most vitamin D and multivitamin supplements.)

Even though an expert quoted by The New York Times noted that skin screenings are not proven to reduce skin cancer death rates, it seems wise to take reasonable early detection measures:

  • Get regular physical checkups that include skin exams.
  • See a dermatologist about mysterious skin lesions or changes in moles and blemishes.



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This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 14th, 2024 at 3:38 pm and is filed under Articles.

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