Did you know men can get breast cancer? You might be aware, but it’s not something you hear much about, because it’s an uncommon occurrence. You certainly don’t see government agencies or health advocacy groups promoting awareness or recommending measures for prevention or early detection.
So, why does the federal government recommend daily sunscreen use for dark-skinned individuals? It’s an important question that means more to us as tanning business operators and sun care professionals. If the government is telling African Americans to apply sunscreen every day to prevent skin cancer, when rates are so low in that demographic and overwhelming evidence shows that the rare occurrences aren’t at all related to sun exposure, it seems fair to consider if they have a grasp on the reality of the conversation about UV exposure and health at all.
In May, Dr. Adewole Adamson, a dermatology professor at the University of Texas, called the federal government’s recommendations for black-skinned individuals to wear sunscreen “nonsensical,” making the comparison with breast cancer in men.
“The public health messages promoted by many clinicians and public health groups regarding sunscreen recommendations for dark skin people is incongruent with the available evidence,” Adamson wrote.
“Media messaging exacerbate the problem with headline after headline warning that black people can also develop melanoma and that blacks are not immune. To be sure, blacks can get melanoma, but the risk is very low. In the same way, men can develop breast cancer, however, we do not promote mammography as a strategy to fight breast cancer in men.”
We all understand that federal government agencies like the CDC should be presenting factual information as they make public health recommendations. Yet this, unfortunately, doesn’t always appear to be the case. Just like the government’s recommendations to avoid eating eggs and to swap margarine for butter, their recommendations on sun exposure is outdated and well off the mark. While fighting for the rights of Americans who chose to visit professional tanning salons over the years, I’ve witnessed the different levels of absurdity coming from the federal government’s sun-care messaging. A few examples of the government’s misguided sun-care recommendations came about through some unlikely sources – dermatologists.
The article, originally published by The Conversation, ”Sunscreen wouldn’t have saved Bob Marley from melanoma, and it won’t help other dark-skinned people,” gained mainstream interest and was discussed in numerous additional publications, including The New York Times. In the piece, Dr. Adamson, who is black, asked, “If sunscreen was important in the prevention of melanoma in dark-skinned patients, then why have we never heard of an epidemic of melanoma in sub-Saharan Africa, a region with intense sun, a lot of black people, and little sunscreen?” Dr. Adamson went on to say, “The public health message promoted by many clinicians and public health groups regarding sunscreen recommendations for dark skin people is incongruent with the available evidence.”
What Dr. Adamson is referring to is the mountains of scientific evidence that shows how melanomas found in black-skinned individuals is extremely rare, but more importantly, has nothing to do with UV light exposure! Science has shown clearly that the type of melanoma found in blacks – acral lentiginous melanoma – is most commonly found on the palms of the hands or bottoms of the feet.
“When was the last time you had a sunburn on the palms or soles? Even among whites, there is no relationship between sun exposure and the risk of acral melanomas,” he wrote. “Famously, Bob Marley died from an acral melanoma on his great toe, but sunscreen would not have helped.”
To demonstrate just how out of touch the federal government’s position is on sun care, the CDC’s Skin Cancer Prevention Progress Report 2018 has two black-skinned individuals on the front cover and recommends that black-skinned individuals wear sunscreen regularly. A black-skinned family is also displayed on the cover of the 2014 Surgeon General’s Call To Action to Prevent Skin Cancer. According to Dr. Adamson, “When it comes to the public health message related to sunscreen, skin cancer, and black people a one-size-fits-all approach misses the mark. The facts simply do not add up for the recommendation of sunscreen as prevention of melanoma in black people. There exists no study that demonstrates sunscreen reduces skin cancer risk in black people. Period.”