What causes melanoma, the most deadly skin-cancer?
Most people would say that sunlight causes melanoma.
Other would mention “sunbeds” and some would specify “sunburns” as being the main culprit for melanoma.
In fact, none of those answers are not and cannot be correct.
You might wonder how can I say that when doctors and cancer councils keep on telling that sunshine give us cancer?
In the rest of this article, I will explain why sunlight in itself does not cause melanoma.
I will even claim that our increased protection towards sun-exposure might be the main reason for the increase in skin-cancers (as well as in all other cancers).
Remember your childhood (if you are old enough).
Summer in Sweden during the 1950ies
I grew up in southern Sweden during the 1950-60ies.
Everyone I knew spent time outdoors during the summer. My parents, siblings, other relatives and friends, we all enjoyed the summer sun as much as we could.
I don’t remember any summer when we did not get sunburns. To peel burned skin was a common activity in the beginning of every Swedish summer.
No one thought that the sunlight we had been longing for during the long winters could be dangerous. Instead we never felt as alive and energetic as when charged by the summer sun.
Sun protecting chemicals were not yet common and doctors did not tell us to protect ourselves towards sunshine. The common advice from parents, teachers, doctors and health authorities was to spend as much time as possible in the sun.
If we tried to avoid sunburns, it was not because we were afraid of skin-cancer but for the practical reason that they could be painful.
People working in the sun during the bronze-age
Generation after generation, before our, have had a similar relationship with sunlight.
That’s why it is hard to understand the fanatic anti-tanning messages mass media bombard us with.
If the sunshine is so dangerous, how come that less people died from melanoma 40 years ago than today?
The statistics from recent studies are far from conclusive.
Manufacturers of sun-protection cosmetics pay for studies which show an increased risk from sun-exposure. Non-biased research show that the risk of melanoma decreases for those exposed to sunlight. That goes also for sunbeds, which are just another way to get access to the healing photons of sunlight.
What about sunshine has changed during the last 40 years?
When looking at any statistics, it is important to identify constants and variables. When it comes to melanoma statistics, sunlight is the only constant factor over time. The sun has been shining on our planet for millions of years. As long as we have been able to measure the intensity of sunlight, it has remained rather constant (at least in the inhabited areas of the earth).
The number of variables in the statistics over melanoma are however endless.
Finding the cause of melanoma through case-control studies will always be unsuccessful.
Less sun-exposure means more melanoma
Sunlight has stayed the same and is the only thing we can be sure of NOT being the cause of melanoma.
Looking at the statistics for melanoma in Sweden, we can see that the mortality has increased since the late 1960ies. The sun-avoidance message and early detection campaigns increase instead of decrease the melanoma mortality.
Coming back to where I started, let me present some figures as proof of the logic based upon my experiences from childhood.
In 1970, the population in Sweden was about 8 million people. The melanoma mortality was 1.3 people per 100,000. 187 people (105 men and 82 women) died that year from melanoma.
90% of the population for several generations having spent the summer days in the sunshine and got plenty of sunburns. More than 7 million sunburned people and only 187 died from melanoma.
In 2011, the population in Sweden had increased to 9 million and the melanoma rate per 100,000 of population had increased to 2.3. 494 people died of melanoma that year, an increase with 187% during the last 40 years.
The sunshine has been constant during those 40 years, but our relationship to it has not. Health authorities, mass-media and glossy magazines have hammered an intensive anti-tanning propaganda into our heads.
People have listened and adhered to the advice: “Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before any sun-exposure and reapply every 2 hours”.
The result is that less and less people get sunburns while more and more people die from melanoma.
A friend of sun-protection might say that the increase in melanoma comes from sunburns during childhood. Thousands years of sunburned generations before ours contradict that argument.
Sunshine has been constant but our behavior has changed from seeking it towards protecting us from it.
The change in our relationship with sunlight is the main reason for the increase in skin-cancers (as well as for most other cancers and illnesses).
Why case-control studies never can tell us what causes skin-cancer.
There is a heap of other variables that also contributes to the increased melanoma mortality.
A study (“Known and potential new risk factors for skin cancer in European populations: a multicentre case–control study”) by Esther de Vries and others, highlights the futility in searching for the main contributing risk-factors for melanoma.
This study of 1,371 cancer cases and 1,550 controls presents 46 risk-factors as possible contributors to skin-cancers. (13 life style related, 14 diet related, 9 medicine related and 10 stress related).
None of those 46 risk-factors are exclusive of any of the others and two of the most relevant new risk-factors (mobile telephone use and the use of sun-protection chemicals) were not included at all.
For example, a person that has experienced sunburns as a child may also be a smoker and red wine-drinker as an adult and also frequent traveler on sunny vacations while being stressed and taking cardiac drugs (sunburn, smoking, wine-drinking, sunny vacations, stress and cardiac drugs were only 6 of the 46 different risk-factors in the large European study).
Even if limiting the choice for each factor to two, 46 nonexclusive risk factors will give more than 70 trillion combinations.
With that many factors involved, case-control studies can’t prove anything (or, rather, can be tailor-made to prove whatever the one who pays for a study wants it to show).
The risk of skin-cancer from use of sunbeds is insignificant.
De Vriers’ study also showed that the influence from indoor tanning on the melanoma risk was “statistically insignificant”. Only 6 persons with melanoma and 13 frequent indoor tanners in the control group were habitual sunbed users.
Early detection of skin cancer doesn’t decrease melanoma.
The costly overdiagnoses of skin-cancer fuels our fear of healing sunlight.
The increasing gap between diagnosed melanoma and its mortality also shows that early detection doesn’t help to save more people. Instead the overdiagnoses fuel the sun-fear terror and thus increase the mortality.
We need to get back to a healthy relationship with sunlight.
It is time for our health authorities to realize that we are the victims of a huge scam when we blame skin-cancer on sun-exposure and sunburns.
It is time to stop believe in the anti-tanning propaganda and get back to the healthy relationship with the sun from my childhood during the 1950-60-ies.