DON'T CLOUD THE SUN-SAFE MESSAGE

DON'T CLOUD THE SUN-SAFE MESSAGE

8 December 2018

Mark Whittaker’s ‘Here comes the sun; Defending our summer rays’ (GW 24 Nov) clouds the sun-safe message – which could have disastrous consequences. The scientific evidence is clear and undisputable that UV exposure and the damage it causes is the single greatest risk factor for developing melanoma. UV radiation damages skin cells and causes mutations in DNA. And melanoma kills. It is the most common cancer affecting 15 to 39 year old Australians, and kills one Australian every five hours.

Sunshine isn’t the culprit here, but excess sunshine is. We enjoy our iconic Aussie outdoor lifestyle as much as the next person. But with one of the highest melanoma rates in the world, all Australians, including Good Weekend writers and editors, have a responsibility to advocate for enjoying sunshine safely. Living a sun-safe life is as simple as wearing a broad-brimmed hat, using 50+ sunscreen, covering up with long pants, sleeves and sunglasses, and seeking shade in the hottest part of the day. 

By alluding to the many possible therapeutic benefits of sunshine while at the same time questioning whether his sunscreen use is ‘doing any good’, Mark Whittaker is doing all Australians a disservice. His reference to a small 1998 German study about possible therapeutic benefits of tanning beds is also dangerous. How many of those 18 participants went on to develop melanoma from their sunbed use? Melanoma Institute Australia led the campaign to have commercial sunbeds banned across the country due to their high melanoma risk, with many states in the USA following suit andthe UK now lobbying for a similar ban. 

Mark also uses the anomaly of why some people develop melanoma but others don’t, to question how sun exposure can be to blame. The answer lies in genetics – and not in undermining the dangerous impact of UV exposure. Our researchers have discovered many of the hereditary genes that explain why some people get melanoma and others do not. A simple glance at the DNA of skin melanomas shows that nearly all have been caused by sun damage. 

Sunshine may well have many therapeutic benefits, but questioning long-held and scientifically proven evidence about sunscreen and the link between UV exposure and melanoma is dangerous.  And the cusp of summer, when UV levels are at their highest and most damaging, is not the time to be playing Devil’s Advocate. 

While we at Melanoma Institute Australia are investing in research and trialling new melanoma treatments, as well as educating the community about the need to protect themselves from the sun, it is frustrating and disheartening to see Good Weekend clouding the issue about sun exposure and potentially undermining our efforts to save lives.

Just as we will continue to fight to save the lives of melanoma patients, many in their teens, 20s and 30s, we will continue to espouse the danger of excessive sun exposure and advocate for living a sun-safe life. 

And Mark, please use that Sun Smart app. It just may save your life.

Professor Georgina Long and Professor Richard Scolyer

Co-Medical Directors

Melanoma Institute Australia

 

For more information, please contact:

Jennifer Durante |Melanoma Institute Australia | 0412 798 990 |jennifer.durante@melanoma.org.au

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