Ironing out the wrinkles in skin cancer misinformation

Ironing out the wrinkles in skin cancer misinformation 

Up until very recently, the assumption of proper “authorities” on skin cancer had been that skin wrinkling is related to skin exposure to the sun. Of course, for 25 years I’ve been asking dermatologists, if skin wrinkling is casued by sun exposure, why, then, are old Eskimos so wrinkled when they have only six weeks of summer? Why are the Massai in Africa so unwrinkled when they have 12 months of summer–and on the equator where the sun is more intense?

But my questions never seemed to shake conventional “wisdom,” which also said that skin cancer is caused by exposure to the sun. So if sun equals wrinkles, and sun also equals cancer, then wrinkles must equal cancer, right?

Not so fast.

This reasoning has gone right out the window, according to a recent report by Reuters Health stating “New research shows that the most common form of skin cancer is found more frequently among smooth-skinned older adults than in their more wrinkled peers.” So the question arises, is basal cell cancer really caused by excessive exposure to the sun?

This is accepted as absolute fact, but maybe we are missing something.

To add to the confusion, Dr. Christopher E. M. Griffiths, the leader of the study, stressed that overexposure to the sun does “cause basal cell carcinoma and all types of skin cancer, including the deadly malignant melanoma.”

I underlined that last clause because it is absolutely false. I am sure he believes it, but his opinion, like a lot of “scientific” opinion, is based on what he wants to believe and not on the observable facts. The facts are so obvious that it is hard to believe physicians continue to deny them:

1) Most melanoma appears in areas of the body that are not normally exposed to the sun, especially the torso.

2) People in outdoor jobs have less risk of melanoma than office workers.

3) People who live in areas with low sun exposure, such as Vermont and South Dakota, have a higher incidence of mortality from melanoma than people in Florida and Arizona.

Do you get the picture? Unfortunately, the dermatologists never seem to see the same picture.

Archives of Dermatology 2001; 137: 751-754
Norton, Amy. “Skin cancer less likely on wrinkled faces: study,” Reuters Health, 7/13/01
Rathke, Lisa. “Melanoma death rate highest in VT,” Associated Press, 7/26/01