Unhinged: Mayo Clinic dermatologist says getting sun like ‘asking how much cyanide you want in your breakfast cereal’

The New York Times Well blog allows a woman with skin cancer to run wild against tanning. We take her post apart. Note the nutty quote from the Mayo Clinic dermatologist.

The post is below. [Our comments are in bolded brackets.]


Skin Cancer on the Rise in Young Women

On a hot July day last summer, I was lying on the beach at Coney Island with my younger brother when he noticed a dark mole on the back of my arm. “You should really get that checked at the dermatologist,” he said in a worried tone.

It turned out that the mole on my arm was fine, but another one on my cheek was basal cell skin cancer. A few weeks later, I had surgery to remove it and left the plastic surgeon’s office with a 1.5-inch scar sloping down my right cheek. [Basal cell skin cancers are rarely fatal, but can be disfiguring if allowed to grow, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Fair-skinned people are at greatest risk.]

Friends and colleagues were surprised to see the scar because I was only 28. Even the medical resident who attended my operation said I was the youngest skin cancer patient she had met. [Cancer does occur in young people, although rarely.]

But as I learned more about skin cancer, I discovered that it is becoming increasingly common, especially among young women. A recent study by the Mayo Clinic found that melanoma, the most serious type, had increased eightfold for women under 40 since 1970. [While more melanoma is being diagnosed, death rates are not changing. This indicates that physicians are detecting and diagnosing more benign melanomas. Not all melanomas are malignant!]

“There is this thought that, ‘It won’t happen to me because I’m young,’ but that’s not true anymore,” said Dr. Jerry Brewer, a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic and an author of the study. [Uh… it never was true in the first place.]

Experts say that tanning beds are a major factor behind the increase in all three types of skin cancer for young women. [There is no study credibly linking tanning beds with skin cancer.] More than 20 million people use tanning beds each year, and 70 percent of customers are young white women, who are at increased risk of developing skin cancer. The lamps in tanning beds can give off 10 to 15 times the UVA radiation of normal sun exposure, accelerating the process of skin damage. [Wrong. Tanning beds are 2-3 times more intense than sunlight, but exposure time is limited. The dose makes the poison.] Instead of getting skin cancer 30 or 40 years down the line, many young women are getting it 5 or 10 years later, Dr. Brewer said. [This is a vague yet sinister comment. What does “many” mean? Yes, “some” women will developed skin cancer in their 20s and 30s. Is “some” equal to “many”? The National Cancer Institute doesn’t collect statistics on basal cell carcinoma incidence.]

Though I have never used a tanning bed, [Note: She “never used a tanning bed” but still got a skin cancer.] my dermatologist said I had an unlucky trio of risk factors: fair skin and blue eyes, an upbringing in Texas, where I spent long days in the sun growing up, and a family history of skin cancer. [So this woman could be considered as genetically predisposed to skin cancer and probably should limit her exposure to UV radiation. But her predisposition is not shared by those not fair-skinned.] My grandmother and aunt had melanoma and survived, and my mother had basal cell carcinoma too. [Pretty good evidence of her predisposition.]

While more than three million cases of basal and squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed each year, only about 2,000 people a year die from these non-melanoma skin cancers. [The incidence figure, according to the most recent study, is 1.9 million, not 3 million. The 2,000-figure death toll from non-melanoma skin cancers seems to be fabricated. There are no official statistics on basal cell and squamous cell cancer deaths — the National Cancer Institute doesn’t collect them, likely because deaths from those cancer are so rare.] Melanoma is a far more ominous diagnosis, causing about 9,400 deaths each year in the United States. [But only about 1,500 among white women under 40 years of age.]

Dr. Darrell Rigel, a dermatology professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, says that every month at his New York practice, about two women in their 20s are found to have early melanoma, a dramatic rise from 20 years ago. Once melanoma is the size of a dime, there is a good chance that it has already spread and treatment may not work, Dr. Rigel said. “I know I’m looking at a death sentence on their arm, and they feel perfectly fine,” he said. “It’s absolutely awful.” [Melanoma death rates among white women have been pretty constant over the past 20 years. For white women under 50, the rate seems to have decreased.]

This year, the Food and Drug Administration proposed new regulations for tanning beds that require them to have labels warning that they are not recommended for people under 18. And in April, New Jersey joined several other states in passing a law to prohibit indoor tanning for those under 17. [Will the FDA also require that beaches, pools, playgrounds, etc. carry warning labels?]

Even children can get melanoma. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that the number of cases among children and adolescents has been increasing each year by about 2 percent. [More diagnosis ≠ More disease.]

Another recent study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that while young women are more likely to be given a diagnosis of melanoma, young men are more likely to die from it. Researchers said the disparity was probably a consequence of behavioral tendencies — men are less likely to see a doctor or perform a skin self-examination — and possibly biological differences as well.

My brush with skin cancer has certainly changed how I view the sun. I don’t want another scar — or worse, a diagnosis of melanoma. I wear a 30 SPF sunscreen on my face every day and bought several sun-protective long-sleeve shirts to wear outdoors this summer. I am visiting my dermatologist every three months for a full body scan. (One annual checkup is recommended for those without a previous diagnosis.)

I returned to Texas in April for a friend’s wedding at a resort in the woods. After a long winter in New York, my husband and I were excited to go swimming at a pool near our cabin. In the past, I would have grabbed a lounge chair in the sun, seeing it as the perfect opportunity to arrive at the ceremony with a sun-kissed glow. But this time, I picked a chair under a wide umbrella. It’s just not worth it anymore. [Seems to be a wise PERSONAL choice.]

Even a few sunburns can significantly raise your risk of skin cancer, Dr. Brewer said. [Sunburn is nature’s way of telling you that you’ve had too much sun.]

“Deciding how much sun you want to get is like asking how much cyanide you want in your breakfast cereal,” he said. “There is no amount of tan that is healthy.” [I wouldn’t go to a doctor who made such unhinged statements.]

Emma G. Fitzsimmons is a freelance reporter in New York and a news assistant at The New York Times.

9 thoughts on “Unhinged: Mayo Clinic dermatologist says getting sun like ‘asking how much cyanide you want in your breakfast cereal’”

  1. Both Brewer and Rigel are receiving funding from L’Oréal. In the case of Brewer via the Dermatology Foundation whose main sponsor is Galderma, a maker of skin-cancer medicines owned 50/50 by L’Oréal and Nestlé. The Dermatology Foundation is also the main sponsor of the Melanoma Awareness Month, the main driver of overdiagnoses of skin-cancer in the USA.

    From the Dermatology Foundation’s site: “Dr Brewer is a recipient of a Dermatology Foundation Career Development Award for the study of lymphoma-associated skin cancer.”
    (Actually Dr Brewer received research awards from the Dermatology Foundation every year during 2009, 2010 and 2011).

  2. Sun scare = global warming. Both BS. Heck even my old clinical nutrition book says that vitamin d cuts down risk of getting cancer but didn’t go that far over how much we need. Vitamin d experts suggest 1000 IU of vitamin d3 for every 25 lbs of body weight. The current daily recommended amount is only 600 iu a day regardless of body weight, age, skin color, etc. strangely, if you take enough vitamin d through out cold months, you tan very quickly when weather warms up to go to pools, etc. my kid has very nice tan. Never saw her get bad sunburn for years now. My wife is very paranoid about the sun so I didn’t get to see if she tans more easily with vitamin d supplement but a lot of people reported it. Thought it was pretty interesting that nobody saw it coming. It was really to prevent cold, flu, sinus infection (very effective).

    The key difference is consistent vs nonconsistent sun exposure & vitamin d supplement.

  3. Actually, that vitamin D in milk doesn’t seem to be sufficient, if the medical profession is to be believed that Americans often suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. Some call the deficiency epidemic. I call “Duh”. Physicians demanded we avoid the sun and always wear SPF 500 and now people are short on Vitamin D. Researchers are just so smart…..NOT.

  4. And I thought with no exposure to the sun you would get a terrible case of rickets and die, – if not for the Vitamin D they now put in Milk.

    So naturally we need light to create vitamins we need and at the same time we claim that naturally the sun will kill us in any dose. Seems silly to me.

  5. I had a severe sunburn at age 16, so according to some researchers, I have already doubled my risk. I suppose that sunscreen I wear now is waste. Actually, I wear sunscreen because I dislike pain and burn easily. I have no idea if it prevents cancer (does prevent some wrinkling, but that is merely cosmetic). Also, as with many things in the nanny science world, it is ridiculous to say that something that gives us life (no sun=no people) would be harmful in even the most minute amount.

  6. “I had surgery to remove it and left the plastic surgeon’s office with a 1.5-inch scar sloping down my right cheek.”

    Choose your surgeon more carefully next time. Good ones don’t leave scars.

    “On a hot July day last summer, I was lying on the beach at Coney Island.”

    “Texas, where I spent long days in the sun growing up”

    Does she not value days on the beach, or a childhood in the sun, more than a couple of trips to the dermatologist?

    Emma G. Fitzsimmons is a freelance drama queen at The New York Times.

  7. The sun is an amazing thing. According to warmists it has absolutely no effect on Earth’s temperature whatever. Only man made CO2 heats the Earth. Now they tell us that ANY exposure to the sun is deadly. Wow!

  8. The first time you see a middle-aged American (if you’re not one), you’re surprised how spotty his or her skin is. After a few more encounters, you begin to discern a pattern. Senior Americans have almost no skin left intact. Certainly, not all of these visible blemishes are malignant but you can tell something is going on there that you’re spared from if you live in the north of Europe.

    During my 16+ years in Illinois, I acquired quite a few pigmented spots and bumps on my skin. Having moved to England six years ago, where I spend most of my time indoors, the acquisition of spot defects has stopped, so it wasn’t age-related. My skin continues to age, but it does so uniformly. The members of my family who stayed behind are growing more spots, and will soon look like they were born there.

    Something is going on there that affects ex-European skin in a way that is not entirely normal. My hunch is that it will be hard to see the effects of tanning beds against such a background.

  9. In a way, the comparison is valid. People eat tiny amounts of cyanide all the time. We have the idea that any exposure to the slightest amount of cyanide is lethal and this is false. In the same way, some sun on the skin is apparently part of our vitamin metabolism and activity is part of any normally enjoyable life.
    Cowboy shooting matches run for several hours, usually in bright sunshine. Some of us pink up a bit and nearly all of us wear long sleeves and wide brims. I’m not aware that cowpokes of the Old West had significant melanoma rates but then their health stats are as vague as tree-ring thermometry.

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