Updated July 9 with additional resources
This article claims that wearing sunscreen and avoiding the sun causes cancer. It has exploded on the web today. What do I think? Well, the easy answer is to quote my friend Timna’s (Respect the Rays) response to it.
“Total Fucking Bullshit.”
I alsofind this spread of misinformation sickening. Since my diagnosis I’ve had lots of misinformation passed on to me. Much of the melanoma community is quick to respond “I tanned and have melanoma!” I understand this gut instinct. “Learn from our mistakes, we cry!” But, let’s talk strategy in examining and refuting articles like this. While personal stories are incredibly compelling, we need to be aware of fallacies in our arguments AND in the crap like this that is promoted online. I could name a number of friends who have melanoma and tanned. I am a person who didn’t tan and has melanoma. How do we draw a scientific conclusion based on this testimony?
I could also tell you I have friends who didn’t use car seats when children and they survived. Sure, but are the children who died in car accidents here to tell their stories? No. This isn’t a perfect example for melanoma and tanning but it shows the flawed logic that is sometimes used with personal experience arguments.
Instead, let’s see if we can refute this with a more methods based, scientific approach. Specifically for this article.
- First let’s check the source links at the bottom of the article. The source is here. When we check the link, the article linked doesn’t cite the study. Merely mentions it with an affiliation. IF this is information found in a real study, why is the original study not mentioned?
- Is realFARMacy.org an unbiased source? No, clearly based on their URL, they are against conventional medicine, which means they most likely distrust the FDA which regulates sunscreens. This bias should be recognized, especially when realfarmacy.org claims to cite scientific studies. How do they trust some and not other studies? My guess is they are cherry picking their facts to support their claims.
- The actual study can be read here. Good luck. In my reading, I was surprised to learn that the statistics related in the original article aren’t based on death from melanoma or skin cancer. It is based on all deaths without considering cause. The study also discusses vitamin d deficiencies in those living further from the equator (like in Sweden) and that this may play a role compared with high UV areas like Australia and the southern United States. Was this mentioned in the tabloid-like headline of the original article? Nope! All in all the study seemed fairly subjective. Survey based, threw out previous cancer cases, didn’t include risk factors for melanoma such as red hair in some of their statistics. Seem like fishy evidence on which to base a conclusion to you? Sure does to me.
- So does sunscreen cause cancer? This study doesn’t mention it. Lack of Vitamin D may contribute to mortality rates, but we can get vitamin d in safer forms than sunbathing and tanning beds.
I am planning on discussing more about how to discern claims about sunscreen and sun safety in future posts. Hopefully this information will be helpful in all areas of your life. I am not against holistic medicine.
I AM living 2 years beyond when I was expected to die because of evidence based medicine.
I will continue to be passionate about educating others to find good information and empower them to make the best decisions for themselves and their families! (This is my own personal testimony, biased based on experience, but meant to show my passion to educate others!)
For a fun video about fallacies in thinking and how our brain likes to trick EVERYONE into seeing patterns which aren’t really there, check this out!
“…maybe you can find some evidence that say’s you’re right, but you’ll have to ignore a whole lot more evidence that says you’re wrong. When we filter evidence to support that conclusion and ignore what disagrees, we are victims of confirmation bias.”
“And that’s why science was invented. A way to fight the human tendency of assuming that what we see is what’s true. Instead of starting with a conclusion, and filtering out all the data that doesn’t agree with it, science starts with an explanation and does everything possible to prove it wrong.”
“Science, above all else, requires a desire to disprove ourselves. It’s a sharp tool that we use to poke holes in our ideas, so we’re sure that they’ll float. And unless we do that on a regular basis, our princess will forever be in another castle.”
Update: Since I posted, other reputable sources have also released responses to the original article. Check them out if you want further information.