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AMA urges sunscreen for everyone, regardless of skin tone

People of all skin colors, including blacks and Hispanics, should wear sunscreen and avoid excessive sun exposure to reduce their skin-cancer risk.

That advice comes from the American Medical Association, which included recommendations for preventing skin cancer among communities of color among new policies adopted at its annual meeting in Chicago this week.

The stance of the physicians' association reflects the facts that skin-cancer incidence is on the rise among blacks and Hispanics, that skin cancer is more likely deadly for blacks than it is for whites, and that many people with dark skin apparently aren't aware of their risk for skin cancer.

According to press materials announcing the new policies, the five-year melanoma survival rate is only 58.8 percent among African Americans, compared to 84.8 percent for Caucasians. The incidence of melanoma among Hispanics has risen to rates comparable to that among whites over the past 15 years, the AMA reports. But Hispanics and African Americans, who may believe that their skin-cancer risk is lower than that of Caucasians, are screened less frequently for skin cancer, the association says.

Under the new policy, the AMA pledges to "support and encourage efforts to increase awareness of skin cancer risks, skin cancer screening, and sun-protective behaviors in communities of color." Those behaviors should include wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, staying out of the sun during peak hours, and getting regular skin examinations.

The American Cancer Society reports that skin cancer is "by far" the most common cancer and that while melanoma accounts for just 5 percent of such cancers, it's responsible for most skin-cancer deaths.

How worried are you about skin cancer? Do you wear sun protection daily? Does the AMA's new policy make you more inclined to do so?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 17, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Cancer , General Health , Health Policy  
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I keep a tube of SPF 50 in the car, and put it on whenever I'm going to be driving. Needless to say, I also am religious about sunscreen when I'm going to be outdoors. But as a melanoma survivor, I have to be.

Posted by: johnsondeb | June 17, 2010 8:59 AM | Report abuse

OMG,this is such BAD ADVICE! The medical community has this totally backwards. Instead of proving that the advise to stay out of the sun is GOOD ADVICE, we have to prove the opposite. They have done NO STUDIES on the results of telling our entire population to stay out of the sun! This is major! People have been living in the sunshine since the beginning of time. To stay out of the sun to to go against nature. What are the consequences of this. We don't know because it hasn't been studied. The medical community is absolutely reckless to give this advice when they don't know the consequences.

What are the consequences of staying out of the sun? We're beginning to find out the results of this reckless experiment and it isn't pretty. It is becoming apparent that the rise in autism cases is a result of this advise. It is becoming apparent that the rise in cases of MS is due to this advise. The increase in cases of cancer is on the rise, even melanoma. Why is melanoma still on the rise when everyone is afraid to go out in the sun?

The scientific community is discovering that vitamin D (a hormone really, that is produced by the body following sun exposure) is our first line of defense against cancer. Honestly, we can PREVENT cancer by getting sunshine. Vitamin D is our first line of defence against genetic mutations that can cause diseases like autism. Vitamin D is essential to a healthy immune system. Vitamin D is essential to good health and vitality and our population is absolutely deficient in this essential chemical.

What is even worse about this advise is now they're telling dark skinned people to use sunscreen. If are dark skinned you need to know that it takes longer for you to produce healthy levels of vitamin D from sun exposure than it does fair skinned people. It makes sense. People who evolved in places with lots of sun needed more protection from the sun and have darker skin. Those who migrated to more temperate climates evolved with lighter skin because those people with lighter skin adjusted to lower levels of sunshine as healthier than those with dark skin.

It has been found that Somali refugees who relocated to northern Europe and America now have an epidemic of autistic children. These dark skinned people are not getting the vitamin D that they are accustomed to.

If you have dark skin and live in low light, it is essential that you get lots of sunlight!!!!!!

Posted by: feebee | June 17, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

A protein known as the "master watchman of the genome" for its ability to guard against cancer-causing DNA damage has been found to provide an entirely different level of cancer protection: By prompting the skin to tan in response to ultraviolet light from the sun, it deters the development of melanoma skin cancer, the fastest-increasing form of cancer in the world.

In a study in the March 9 issue of the journal Cell, researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute report that the protein, p53, is not only linked to skin tanning, but also may play a role in people's seemingly universal desire to be in the sun — an activity that, by promoting tanning, can reduce one's risk of melanoma.

Posted by: feebee | June 17, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

"People have been living in the sunshine since the beginning of time."

Yes -- and dying of all sorts of other things (diseases, infections, childbirth) before they lived long enough to develop melanoma. (And surely some died of malignant melanoma before anyone would have known what that was.)

"To stay out of the sun to to go against nature."

OK, but so is using penicillin. Or cleaning with soap. Or receiving chemotherapy. This is not a persuasive argument.

We do need Vitamin D, but sun exposure is not the only way to get it.

Posted by: Janine1 | June 17, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Telling people to stay out of the sun without a thorough investigation of the consequences of the advise is just as reckless as approving a major drug without rigorous testing.

As a mother I have gone back to old style thinking about sun protection. I strongly suggest that my kids get outside and get sun, exercise and fresh air. We use sunscreen as needed to prevent sunburns. Then we use zinc oxide products which are the most tested and safest for our health and environment.

This paranoia about the sun is fueled in part by the pharmaceutical industry and the profits they make from the chemicals in sunscreen. Those barely researched chemicals go on our kids skin, in the pools they swim in (and inevitably injest). Those chemicals are getting into our environment.

Do your own research. A good place to start is the Vitamin D Council:

Posted by: feebee | June 17, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

If I'm going to be out and about for a good part of the day (usually on weekends), I put on the sunscreen.

On a normal workday, where the extent of my direct sun exposure is between 7-8 AM on my commute, possibly half an hour at midday if I'm able to get out, and between 5-6 PM on my way home? I don't bother.

Posted by: | June 17, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I'm not arguing the point about needing vitamin D. But as someone who has seen several forms of skin cancer -- some disfiguring -- in my own family (and I have to be vigilant myself, having already had a precancerous growth), and who watched a close friend lose her mother to melanoma, I just have no patience for "hey, tanning is good for you" junk science.

Posted by: Janine1 | June 17, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Research coming from such cancer research powerhouses as Harvard and University of California is hardly 'junk science'. The referenced article on tanning is from Harvard. These and other prestigious institutions are trying to get the research done as quickly as possible. The point is the research should have been done FIRST, before the advise to stay out of the sun. The 'junk science' is coming from the pharmas who are cashing in.

Melanoma is not the only tragedy on this earth. Giving birth to a healthy, wonderful child who becomes afflicted for the rest of its life with autism is, at least, as tragic as someone dying from melanoma. Breast cancer is more prevalent in northern states than it is in southern. Dying of breast cancer is just as tragic as dying of melanoma. I've known and loved people who have died of breast cancer.

The medical ethic is First Do No Harm. Telling people to avoid sun exposure is a major statement and it is being made without first determining the consequences. Harm is being done.

Posted by: feebee | June 17, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

There is a strong scientific evidence that the use of sunscreen decreases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma, however the link between melanoma and sunscreen is not as clear. The risk of melanoma is associated with occasional exposure to sunlight as well as sunburns especially the once suffered in childhood, but a consistent sunlight exposure may have protective effects against melanoma. So it is probably best to stay away from the sun from 10 am to 4 pm to avoid sun burn, wear protective closing and leave the sunscreen for the occasions when high intensity sun exposure during the hours of peak UVA and UVB radiation is unavoidable.

Posted by: mariannar | June 17, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

Here is amazing information on how cancer occurs and how it can be PREVENTED. Hardly junk science -- University of California, School of Medicine.

How Vitamin D Reduces Incidence of Cancer: DINOMIT Model

For those who aren't as interested in the science:

Possible 75% cancer mortality reduction with Vitamin D

Posted by: feebee | June 17, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

The rate of melanoma for blacks is 1 20th that of whites, thus 1 in 100,000 compared to 20 to 30 in 100,000. The death rate while higher, is still tiny, aprox 100 deaths/year vs aprox 8000 deaths per year. A higher proportion, but a much smaller number.

The only type that is as frequent in blacks as whites is a type that causes cancer on the soles of the feet, and under the tongue, places where you don't put sunscreen on anyway.

For blacks who are chronically deficient in Vitamin D, putting on sunscreen to fight such a small risk of getting skin cancer makes very little sense.

This is not very well thought out advice for blacks!! What a surprise!

Posted by: Neve1 | June 20, 2010 8:38 PM | Report abuse

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