On February 23 and 24, the New York Times published two full page articles on experimental drug trials on malignant melanoma, respectively titled "After Long Fight, Drug Gives Sudden Reprieve" and "A Drug Trial Cycle: Recovery, Relapse, Reinvention."
As stated in the February 24 article, at an international oncology meeting, Dr. Keith Flaherty described "the extraordinary recovery of the melanoma patients in the experimental drug trials he was leading." However, he frankly admitted "The drug's ability to stop the melanoma, on average appears to be approximately six months."
Malignant melanoma is the fastest rising cancer in the world. Since 1975, its incidence in white men and women has increased by about 240 percent and 170 percent, respectively, while its mortality has increased by 55 percent and 24 percent, respectively. In sharp contrast, malignant melanoma is virtually unknown in black men and women.
All these articles focused on efforts to treat this lethal cancer. However, exclusive emphasis was directed to a specialized experimental treatment known as "targeted therapy," strongly promoted by the cancer drug industry -- notably its two giant companies, Roche and Glaxo. Emphasis was also directed to clinical trials by two patient "advocacy groups," the Melanoma and Melanoma Research Foundations. However, minimal or no reference was made to the obvious fact that malignant melanoma, just like lung cancer, is essentially avoidable.
A 1992 publication by Dr. Garland in the American Journal of Public Health, "Could Sunscreens Increase Melanoma Risk" documented the scientific evidence that sunscreens protect against sunburn due to short-wave ultraviolet (UV-B) radiation. However, sunscreens give no more than two hours protection, no matter how high their sun protection factor (SPF) is rated. Also, sunscreens wash off readily following even a short swim.
More seriously, Dr. Garland emphasized the alarming evidence that sunscreens do not protect against long-wave (UV-A) radiation. This penetrates deeply into the skin, and is responsible for the lethal malignant melanoma, now the fastest rising cancer in the world.
Prolonged exposure to sun is particularly dangerous during childhood and adolescence. Years of research data has clearly shown a strong relationship between the number of sunburn episodes before the age of fifteen, and the subsequent development of malignant melanoma later in life.
Since 1975, its incidence in white men and women has increased by about 240 percent and 170 percent, respectively, while its mortality has increased by 55 percent and 24 percent, respectively. In sharp contrast, malignant melanoma is virtually unknown in black men and women. This reduced cancer risk is due to the fact that skin contains high levels of melanin, the natural black pigment, which is very effective in blocking the dangerous long-wave radiation.
In a sharp contrast to sunscreens, sunblocks, based on zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are highly protective and long-lasting. They act by reflecting radiation off the skin surface. However, sunblocks are generally unfavored as they whiten the skin. Far more seriously, unscrupulous manufacturers have increased their effectiveness, by incorporating unlabeled ultra-microscopic particles known as "nanoparticles." These are ultra dangerous as they can penetrate deeply through the skin and even invade small blood vessels, with poorly predictable body wide toxic effects.
Fortunately, as emphasized in my 2009 book Toxic Beauty, there are safe alternatives to sunscreens. These include Soyscreen, based on natural plant ingredients, which is long acting and does not wash off in the sea. They also include Solumbra, a highly effective sun-protection brand of light clothing, particularly for children.
Surely the Melanoma foundations will support these and related initiatives for reducing exposures to long-wave UV radiation, and thus eliminate the only known and well-documented cause of the malignant melanoma, apart from a possible role of ozone depletion.
Samuel S. Epstein, MD
Professor emeritus Environmental and Occupational Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago
School of Public Health
Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
Chicago, Illinois 60612
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