One more skin cancer myth “exposed”

This month, you may expose a little more skin than usual at the beach, lake or poolside. So, appropriately enough, I thought I’d take a moment to “expose” another skin cancer myth.

Last month, after a massive review of evidence, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) concluded there is not enough evidence to recommend total body visual screenings for skin cancer.

After reviewing thousands of research studies and papers from around the world, the USPSTF couldn’t determine whether the benefits of screening outweigh the risks of harm from unnecessary or excessive procedures. In other words, skin cancer screenings lead to removing lots of skin growths that are not cancer and do not need aggressive treatment.

This recommendation is actually long overdue…

Skin cancer: Overhyped and over-screened

Remember, 91 percent of skin “cancers” grow on the surface of the skin. But when treated, they do NOT invade. They do NOT metastasize. And they do NOT kill the patient.

In fact, under the microscope, these non-melanoma skin growths often look like “grade zero” or “grade one-half cancer,” when the minimum for a real cancer is supposed to be “grade one.” And doctors can easily remove these growths in their office. As I have reported many times, we should not even call these growths “cancer.”

Melanoma is the ONE truly malignant form of skin cancer. But it only accounts for nine percent of all skin cancers. And as I explained last month, Australian researchers came up with a useful “self-assessment” for melanoma risk. They found people with red hair and high density of nevi (moles) carry the greatest melanoma risk.

Nonetheless, dermatologists and mainstream doctors continue to throw around “blanket” recommendations that everyone should avoid the sun, use toxic sun blockers, count up the numbers of skin moles, get regular screenings, and other old advice based on imprecise mythology rather than medical science.

The science shows, unless you have these two aforementioned risk factors, you should benefit from 10 to 15 minutes in the sun every day, without sunscreen. It will give you a healthy, protective and attractive tan. It will also contribute to healthy vitamin D levels.

In fact, low vitamin D is a risk factor for getting cancer of many types, including more dangerous forms of malignant melanoma skin cancer.

Research shows excess sun exposure during adolescence and young adulthood increases melanoma risk. As does exposure to dangerous tanning beds, which the FDA has begun to regulate, based on science. Sun exposure later in life is of less concern for the lifelong risk of melanoma skin cancer.

Melanoma can arise from any pigmented skin cell, anywhere on the skin. Including the sole of the foot, as was the case with an older woman who died of metastatic melanoma I once investigated as a pathologist. I don’t think sun exposure accounted for her melanoma unless she went around walking on her hands.

Same old story when it comes to “routine” cancer screenings

The new USPSTF report actually upholds older guidelines from 2009 that found there is not enough evidence to assess the benefits or harms of conducting total body visual examinations to screen for skin cancer patients at average risk.

Yet, according to the New York Times and Washington Post, dermatologists worry the new report may discourage patients from wanting to go through the potentially awkward ritual of removing all their clothing for total body visual examinations by their physicians.

I find it all a bit ironic.

On the one hand, patients used to remove their clothing for proper and thorough physical examinations by physicians. Today, offices rush patients through in their street clothes, with the physician placing a stethoscope under (or even over) the shirt or blouse for detection of heart and lung sounds.

On the other hand, dermatologists argue to keep the full-body exam in place, even though there is no clear benefit.

The relatively “harmless” total body skin exam leads to over-diagnosis and overtreatment — as does almost every other kind of “routine” cancer screening.

Of course, there are many other dangerous “routine” cancer screening procedures. One of the worst is the routine colonoscopy screening for colon cancer.

Last month, I launched a new citizen campaign called the Safe Colon Cancer Screenings Initiative to increase public awareness of the safe, effective alternatives to colonoscopies. And the first part of this initiative is a petition we intend to send to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Please consider supporting this important movement — and adding your name to this petition. You can read more about the Safe Colon Cancer Screenings Initiative and sign the petition by clicking here.

And in the meantime, you’ve now “got the skinny” on the big myths surrounding skin cancer.