When I saw this article – For Boomers, Sunblocks Come Late – in The New York Times a few weeks ago I debated if I should write a post about it or not. At the time I decided against writing a post about the article because I felt that I had already written enough in my blog about the need for proper sun protection and how you can and should protect yourself from the sun in order to avoid skin cancer. But today I changed my mind in light of the EWG report on sunscreen and the overwhelming interest that people have in the report. As I wrote in my own blog post about the report, one of the things that I am afraid that will happen because of this negative report on sunscreens is that people will stop using their sunscreens altogether out of fear that the sunscreens are doing more harm than good. In my opinion nothing could be further from the truth so I felt that this article had now became more timely and showed with great clarity why you need and want to use sunscreen daily.
The author of the article Michael Winerip chronicles his own history of severe sunburns in his youth and skin cancer lesions he developed later in life. As in the case of other articles I’ve written about in the past I think excerpting parts of the article here would be interesting (and enlightening):
Older white men like me are the worst when it comes to skin cancer rates. While the death rate from melanoma — the most severe skin cancer — has been declining for 20 years for people under 50, men over 50 have the highest increase in death rate, 3.2 percent a year since 2002. The highest annual increase in incidence of melanoma is among white men over 65, 8.8 percent a year since 2003. And while there’s also rapid growth among young white women ages 15 to 34 (40 percent of 18-year-old women have used a tanning bed in the last year, compared to 8 percent of men, according to the American Academy of Dermatology), nearly twice as many men as women die of skin cancer each year.
So here’s what I can’t figure: How could I have been so stupid? How was I so oblivious for 40 years, and could I blame my mother for any of this? Dr. Darrell S. Rigel, 59, a past president of the American Academy of Dermatology, and editor of “Cancer of the Skin,” a leading textbook in the field, advises against blaming mothers. “My own mother would spend hours tanning in the backyard, and developed a melanoma,” he said. “The public awareness on this is relatively new, 20 to 25 years.”
The progression from serious sun exposure to skin cancer can take decades to unspool in our DNA. “What we’re seeing now, in increased rates of melanoma, is what people did in the ’80s,” Dr. Rigel said. “Baby boomers out baking in the ’80s.”
Why didn’t baking boomers slather up? Turns out, the protective sunblock that we’ve doused our children with is relatively new. “In the ’60s and ’70s all we had was suntan lotion with an SPF of 2, to take a little edge off the sun,” Dr. Rigel said. “The first SPF 15 was introduced in 1986 and 30 SPF not until the early ’90s.”
Furthermore, dermatology was quite primitive when we were born. In the 1950s, Dr. Rigel said, doctors were still amputating limbs to stop the spread of melanoma. As late as the 1980s, he said, there were no good studies on how big a margin needed to be when removing a melanoma, and incisions would stretch 8 to 10 inches.
As to why we boomers were the first to metastasize in a big way, Dr. Rigel rounded up the usual suspects: increased wealth and leisure; the explosion in air travel, allowing more vacations in sunny Florida, California and Arizona and at ski resorts; a thinning ozone layer; and a longer life span that gives us the opportunity to die of more things.
The good news is that skin cancer is one of the most treatable of cancers when caught early. Since the American Academy of Dermatology undertook its first national public health campaign 25 years ago, there has been steady progress in reducing death rates. The five-year survival rate for melanomas has improved from 82 percent in the mid-’70s to 87 percent in the mid-’80s and to 92 percent by the mid-2000s.
Early detection is crucial. If a melanoma is removed while still confined to the skin, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent; if it has spread to the lymph system or blood, the survival rate drops to 65 percent; if it has reached the organs, 15 percent.
And if you need to be scared into a checkup, Dr. Rigel can do it: “For a melanoma the size of a dime, there’s a greater than 50 percent chance it’s already spread beyond the skin.”
And that, he said, helps explain why the mortality rate is increasing among men over 65. “They’re resistant to getting spots looked at,” Dr. Rigel said. “They tell me, ‘I’m only here because my wife made me.’ ”
I think this article does a great job of highlighting some key issues: why you need to use sunscreen, why you should be concerned about skin cancer, why you must avoid tanning beds (or cancer beds as I like to call them), and why you should go to a dermatologist for a skin cancer body scan.