There are a lot of tales told about skin health. One of the most damaging is that sun exposure causes skin cancer. As you'll see in a moment, this is simply not true.
Melanoma is the form of skin cancer the media likes to refer to when they want to scare the dickens out of the public about the dangers of sun exposure. There are a number of reports of the fact that melanoma has been steadily increasing over the last 20 years. Most dermatologists will say this increase is due to the fact that more people are getting far too much sun exposure in their younger years.
A closer look at the matter, however, reveals a far different story. Skin cancer awareness programs have been effective at increasing the number of people undergoing full-body screening exams, and the result is a huge increase in the number of skin biopsies being performed. It seems that even with biopsies there is still considerable confusion and disagreement among pathologists when it comes to identifying melanoma. It's apparently not a cut-and-dried diagnosis.
Looking at the same tissue, one pathologist will see a benign lesion while another will see it as melanoma. Thus, the dramatic increase in biopsies has led to more melanoma diagnoses, many of which are false, as a new study shows.
The study, conducted by doctors at Dartmouth Medical School, found that there has been a 250% increase in skin biopsies since 1986-which just happens to be roughly the same percentage increase in the number of people diagnosed with early-stage melanoma. These researchers became skeptical about the rise in melanoma after they noticed that over that time there hasn't been any increase in deaths from melanoma or any increase in the number of advanced cases of the disease.
Plain and simple, there has not been an actual increase in the overall incidence of melanoma. The apparent increase is due merely to improved detection because of the increased number of screening procedures and subsequent biopsies, which by the way, hasn't led to any increase in survival or cure rates.
Much like cancers of the prostate, breast, and lung, the more doctors look for cancer, the more likely they will find it and the number of false diagnoses will also increase.
If you or someone you know is diagnosed with melanoma, I would definitely suggest getting a second or possibly even a third opinion.
Obviously, excessive exposure that results in sunburn isn't a benefit at all. However, moderate amounts of sunlight, along with a varied diet containing nature's natural protective anti- oxidants, vitamins, and fatty acids (omega-3s) is actually beneficial and has been shown to help prevent many forms of cancer-including skin cancer.
Lifetime sun exposure was actually shown to result in a lower risk of developing melanoma. (I Invest Dermatol 03;120(6):1087-1093) Past studies have shown that individuals who utilize sun exposure reasonably have a lower incidence of colon and breast cancer, prostate cancer, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, hip and vertebra fractures, et cetera.
Over 20 years ago it was discovered that vitamin D has an "anti-proliferative" effect on cells. In other words, vitamin D can stop cells from multiplying out of control (i.e., from developing into cancer). The body has only two sources for vitamin D. The first is from oily foods (vitamin D is fat-soluble) such as oily fish, organ meats, and eggs. The second is from your own skin cells, which use the same "cancer-causing" UV rays from the sun to convert a form of cholesterol into vitamin D.
Not surprisingly, those who consume more fish and omega- 3 foods have a reduced incidence of melanoma, while those consuming more of the omega-6 oils (the vegetable oils that are now so pervasive throughout our food supply) have increased rates of melanoma and other skin cancers.
A couple of other chemicals that your skin makes when it has adequate exposure to the UV rays of the sun. The function of these two vitamin D-related compounds, lumisterol and tachysterol, isn't yet fully understood. It's possible that they're associated with helping prevent blood sugar problems and obesity.
Avoiding sunlight puts you at a far greater health risk than exposing yourself moderately. Dr. William Grant, one of the top researchers on this subject, has studied the relationship between sunlight and health for years. He's found that every year 47,000 individuals in this country die from 16 different types of cancer due to insufficient vitamin D, whereas 8,000 die of melanoma and another 2,000 die from other skin cancers.
Furthermore, pale skin, numerous moles, smoking, a diet high in fat and low in fruits and veg- etables, and frequent sunburns are all stronger predictors of later skin cancer than UV exposure. As with most things, moderation is the watchword. Enjoy your time in the sun every day and prepare your body with an adequate intake of the right fatty acids.
By Joni Bell