News & Press

Shying Away From Sun Increases Melanoma Risk

That is the headline in an article by Dr. John Briffa, a UK physician.  Citing a 2008 article in the British Medical Journal, the author claims that melanoma incidence is less in areas where people have greater sun exposure.  From this he concludes that UV radiation offers a protective effect against melanoma.

Sometimes what appears to be data is actually more like a Rorschach ink blot test—what you see is much more a reflection of yourself than it is a picture of objective reality. 

And, sloppy reasoning leads to strange conclusions:  Pigs have ears.  I have ears.  Therefore I am a pig.  Or, in this case:  Sun exposure is higher near the equator.  People near the equator have less melanoma.  Therefore sun exposure prevents melanoma.  Talk about weird science!

The truth is this.  Data is unequivocal that UV radiation is a major factor in the most common forms of skin cancer—basal cell, squamous cell.  The biggest question for years has been the connection between melanoma and UV radiation.  This has been tougher to demonstrate because melanoma—while the most deadly form of skin cancer—is less common than other forms.  Over the past several years, however, scientists have demonstrated what patients have known all along—many, many cases of melanoma are directly tied to UV exposure.  In fact, an article 20 years ago showed that about 65% of melanoma is tied to UV damage.  And the body of evidence has grown since then.

The British Medical Journal article was, in fact, a point/counterpoint type article.  Dr. Briffa decided only to cite one side of the argument.  He left out all the studies and data that counter his perspective.  Researchers have now demonstrated, both by epidemiology and through laboratory tests, that UV exposure is a major risk factor for melanoma.  This is, truly, a life and death debate.  Given the consequences of getting it wrong, I would encourage Dr. Briffa to do his homework a bit better.