I grew up the sunshine state of California before all the worry about sunshine and cancer. I am pretty sure I never used sunblock although I remember the ad with the puppy pulling down the little girl’s panties to expose her white rump outlined by the red sunburn she had experienced from over exposure to the sun. I also never knew what a bike helmet was and seat belts were optional in my family. Come to think of it my parents might have had some ulterior motives, which I may have to discuss in my next blog or therapy session. The point is, we all survived.
Then came the onslaught from the government, physicians, and sunblock manufactures that sunlight was bad; SPF 50 was good. Well intentioned as most of this was, it was misdirected. Terribly misdirected. I know I am a cancer doctor and I am attacking the Holy Grail of modern medicine. How dare I? Well I can show you all kinds of well intentioned, misguided medical advice given over the years. How about cigarette smoking is good for you? I have the old ads to prove it. What about fen phen for weight loss? I am so glad I remained fat for that one. My point is that doctors and researchers are human, we make mistakes. Saying sunshine is bad for you is a BIG mistake.
Current literature is showing that in areas with the highest sunshine exposure have lower rates of cancer. This has been studied in many countries and they have all come up with the same conclusion sunshine is good for you. WOW what an insight. It makes sense otherwise we would be living underground like moles. But by limiting our sun exposure that’s exactly what we are doing.
The studies have shown that it is SUNBURN not SUNSHINE that is bad for us. Lets talk about melanoma. This is a devastating cancer that I have seen entirely too often. It is linked to genetic factors as well as SUNBURN. Sun burn may double the risk of melanoma but NON-BURNING sun exposure may reduce the risk of developing melanoma. Why is this? It has been linked to Vitamin D levels. As humans, we need vitamin D. One of our chief sources of vitamin D is the sun.
The more common forms of skin cancers are basal cell (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma(SCC). Approximately 2.5 million cases are treated annually in the United States. We know that sunburn increases the risk of these cancers but sun exposure is more complicated with some studies showing increase and others not demonstrating this. The Final Recommendation Statement: Skin Cancer Counseling. US Prevention Services Task Force May 2012 stated that there was no association between cumulative sun exposure and either BCC or SCC . We do know,however, that the incidence of these cancers has risen by 17% from 1998 to 2012. Is it the aging of the population, the way we report these cancers (there is no registry), a more aware population going to their doctors? I don’t think anyone knows for sure.
So what can we do about decreasing our risk of BCC and SCC? A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine proved that by taking B3 at a certain dose twice a day decreased the development of these skin cancers and their precursors.
I will be talking more about sunshine, vitamins and ways to decrease your risk of cancer in future blogs. Yes, we can all eat better, weigh less, exercise more and I may discuss these issues in the future, but for now go out and enjoy the sunshine-just don’t get burned.