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What You Need to Know About Checking Your Moles for Skin Cancer

Summer has arrived and so have the warnings about the dangers of sun exposure. A Science Alert feature about how to check for cancerous moles underscores the hold that skin cancer and sun damage have on the popular imagination.

Visually searching for cancerous moles may not be that effective of a screening method. Studies have shown that 90 percent of melanoma surgeries could involve the unnecessary removals of benign lesions.  This raises questions about the extent of the “melanoma epidemic.” Are these unnecessary excisions the result of the awareness and concern generated by costly anti-skin cancer campaigns?

In July 2014, the interim U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak, who is also a dermatologist, issued a "Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer," in which he declared UV radiation harmful and said sun exposure should be avoided altogether. The American Academy of Dermatology and The Skin Cancer Foundation also advocate avoiding all sun exposure — regardless of the color of your skin — saying vitamin D supplementation can address any deficiencies.

I’ve been a long-time critic of the dermatology profession for taking such a one-sided view of sun exposure, and for their overwrought pronouncements on natural light. Their recommendations are irrational and shortsighted. The scientific evidence, now running in excess of 34,000 studies, details that UV exposure is essential, both for vitamin D production and other benefits unrelated to vitamin D.

Let's remember that, because of their irrational concern, they were able to convince public health officials and media to persuade people to use sunscreens. What happened as a result of the public adopting this proactive "preventive" approach? Skin cancers actually increased.

Why? Because the dermatologists did not do their homework. Most sunscreens blocked UVB, which causes vitamin D levels to increase and lower cancer rates, but they let UVA, which can cause skin cancer when excessively exposed, to shine right through like a hot knife through butter. What's worse, they never admitted to their egregious mistake. Ironically, the only location dermatologists approve of UV light treatment is in their office under costly supervision.

To further muddy the waters, the American Academy of Dermatology recently made the bizarre claim that “UV rays are not very efficient in creating vitamin D in the skin.” However, no corroborating evidence has been produced to back up this provocative statement.

Promoting complete abstinence from UV light is undoubtedly fueling many health problems associated with vitamin D deficiency, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases and depression. UVB exposure is essential for optimal health, and any risks of exposure are related to over exposure and burning. Research shows vitamin D is involved in the biochemical regulation of nearly every cell in your body, including your immune system.

We are not nocturnal beings, and while high intermittent and/or overexposure to UV light can cause potentially serious harm, it's a manageable risk provided you use common sense and pay careful attention to some basic elements. The advice to completely avoid UV light is quite dangerous, and one that can lead to a cascade of health concerns due to vitamin D deficiency

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