Melanoma doctor urges us to get more sun!

I almost fell of office chair yesterday when I read this article in the UK’s Daily Mail by oncologist (cancer specialist) Professor Angus Dalgleish. Professor Dalgleish has a particular interest in malignant melanoma. In the piece, he draws our attention to the links between vitamin D and cancer, including the link between low vitamin D levels and melanoma. He warns that the anti-sun propaganda many us have been familiar with for much of our lives may well have led to a chronic deficiency of vitamin D. The implication is clear: our advice about sun exposure may be contributing to increasing cancer incidence, including melanoma.

Back in April, one of my blogs focused on the relationship between sunlight and melanoma, and presented some observations from dermatologist Dr Sam Shuster including the fact that:

  • The relationship between melanoma and latitude is small and inconsistent (in other words, locations closer to the equator with more sunlight exposure do not see very significantly increased malignant melanoma incidence).
  • Malignant melanoma incidence and death from this condition are lower in individuals with increased sunlight exposure (11 studies are cited as evidence to support this).
  • Incidence of malignant melanoma is not reduced and can be increased by sunscreen use.
  • Melanoma risk associated with sunbed use is “small and inconsistent”.
  • Inducing malignant melanoma in the laboratory using ultraviolet light is difficult (in contrast to other less aggressive and more treatable skin cancers).

Professor Dalgleish’s comments further call into question the general advice we have about sun exposure, and the risks it poses regarding melanoma specifically. His ideas go against the grain of conventional thinking somewhat, and I believe he should be applauded for injecting some objectivity into the debate.

I don’t know Professor Dalgleish personally, but my suspicion is he is a man who thinks for himself and is interested in giving the best care and advice possible to his patients. I also think it’s probably true that he and his department receive no funding from the manufacturers of sunscreen…

19 Responses to Melanoma doctor urges us to get more sun!

  1. Christopher Palmer 26 May 2011 at 11:10 am #

    I agree, the article is a breath of fresh air in a paper, like others, whose business plan involves securing revenue from potential advertisers and as such as a raison d’etre seems to denude objectivity at times.

    Furthermore it takes a brave professional to speak against the grain of prevailing consensus in his/her profession. Indeed instances of professionals finding it too easy to run with the grain of consensus spring to mind. I think the general headlining theme is great but the level of objectivity in the article risks a backlash of criticism from those in the alternate camp.

    In the Daily Mail article Angus Dalgleish says,

    “I immediately began to test my patients’ vitamin D levels and was amazed – I’d expected maybe 30 per cent would be deficient; it was closer to 90 per cent. That changed everything for me.”

    First question; what does Mr Dalgleish consider normal?
    Second point; there’s a danger a general reader could extract the (potentially) false premise that 90 percent of a general population are deficient when it would seem Mr Dalgleish’s patients would constitute a particularly selective sample.

    Third; there’s an idea that could have been explored. That is that the possibility that the balance of Vitamin D may work in a virtuous or vicious circle. People who have made efforts to raise Vitamin D status report changes in how their skin reacts to solar exposure. They report an observed tendency to ‘tan more readily’ and to ‘burn’; less which has the look of a virtuous loop. Whereas those whose Vit D status is low, and whose time spent out of doors may be sporadic, may have a tendency to burn and perhaps greater incentive to slip-slap-slop. Could this constitute a viscous circle?

    Forth; however we view Mr Dalgleish’s article we should not be too rapturous or too critical for almost inevitably there will exist a distinction between the copy that Mr Dalgleish submitted and that which the editor chose to publish.

    For all that we are the intelligent ape I think there are many ways, Dr Biffa, in which we are not truly masters of our own destiny. In the natural world outcomes and evolutionary trajectories are determined by the universal laws of physics (which are unjustifiably reducible to mathematical relations) and the immutable rules that govern natures economy (which are less so). These rules prevail in the world that is now largely of mans’ own making, though there is a willingness to overlook that they do, but man has created a few selective pressures entirely of his own kind and the trajectories that result are not always desirable. From your last sentence I think you are aware of one of them.

    “I also think it’s probably true that he and his department receive no funding from the manufacturers of sunscreen…”

  2. Dan 26 May 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    Interesting. I have long suspected that, like the anti-cholesterol crowd, dermatologists who advise against sun exposure are in the back pockets of the sunscreen manufacturers. It’s looking more and more as if the skin cancer-sun “connection” is just a ploy to sell sunscreen.

  3. Jon 26 May 2011 at 6:50 pm #

    Dr Briffa

    I am sure you have heard of the American doctor, Dr Mercola. He has an excellent website regarding health and nutrition information and is particularly passionate about vitamin d and its incredible health benefits.

    On his vitamin d website he has a 1 hour free lecture/video on vitamin d and its health benefits and the common ignorance regarding sun exposure. I encourage you and all the other readers to watch it as it is extremely interesting and informative.


  4. Björn Hammarskjöld 26 May 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    It’s interesting that those Aussies that protect themseves the most with sunscreen have the highest rate of malignant melanoma.
    Why have we forgotten that sunscreen contains benzene rings that for long are known to cause cancer?
    Why do we have alkylate petrol/gas for our lawn mover? The alkylate petrol/gas has lower bezene contetnt than ordinary petrol/gas to reduce cancer caused by petrol/gas.
    Vitamin D from UVB irradiation of skin cholesterol helps repairing the DNA damage caused by the UVA irradiation.
    So it all makes sense when we block the sun block

  5. Rufus Greenbaum 27 May 2011 at 6:18 am #

    Dr Angus Dalgleish is professor of Oncology at St George’s Hospital in London.

    He recently spoke at a conference about Vitamin D and Cancer, together with 6 other experts

    You can see all the presentations at:

  6. helen 27 May 2011 at 7:03 am #

    Fear Fear Fear anything based in fear is to be avoided lest you contract the deadly disease called FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real.

    the sooner everyone starts thinking for themselves and taking nothing on faith just because someone with a degree tells them it is so and start to investigate things they are told for themselve the better for them and the rest of the world.

  7. habibur 27 May 2011 at 8:47 am #


  8. Pete Grist 27 May 2011 at 9:37 am #

    It is possible to overdo the sunscreen manufacturer conspiracy, after all they do have an interest in people spending a day on the beach! I don’t see the need for sunscreen in normal activity in the UK (including my children), but I will burn without some factor 8 if I spend a couple of hours on a beach. That is until a tan develops. I’m now not too bothered about the overall tan look, but modern sunscreens do mean I can enjoy having the sun and air on my body, without risk of burning.

    I also thought the melanoma risk was to do with burning rather than sun exposure per se?

  9. Frederica Huxley 27 May 2011 at 11:12 am #

    It is a breath of fresh air to hear Prof. Dalgeish’s views!
    @Peter – I agree that there are occasions when sunscreen is called for, but please use a natural product that is not carcinogenic!

  10. andy 27 May 2011 at 5:54 pm #

    I addtio,n most sun screens contain a lot of toxic chemicals, which can cause cancer. Because in many cases puting on the skin is like eating, a lot is absorbed into the body.

  11. Belinda Chlouber 27 May 2011 at 6:02 pm #

    I’ve suspected such for years and if you’re even more interested in the vitamin D research check out the Autoimmunity Research Foundation and what they have to say about it. I feel like it’s an explosion waiting to happen.

  12. Irene 4 June 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    Oh bummer! 🙂 Just when I finally thought I didn’t need to be ashamed of my sensitive pale skin! The suntanned people are taking over the world again! 🙂

    Seriously, it’s very good news even if it leaves no hope for us the pale-skinned ones. 🙂

  13. E. Keith Owens 18 June 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    I wouldnt be a bit surprised if Vitamin D turns out to be .more useful in improving outcomes in cases of early relapse than .drugs costing 10 000 a year said Professor Dalgleish. Vitamin D is much .more likely to give a benefit in my view. ..Professor Dalgleish said he also tests Vitamin D levels in his .private patients who have different kinds of cancer and prescribes .the vitamin to any where it is low. ..Professor Dalgleish said We have always known that melanoma was .caused by sunburn plus fair skin and moles plus an unknown Factor X.

  14. .. Need not apply: Get 20 minutes of sun a day (without lotion) ‘to help beat brittle bones
    (Daily Mail Headline – Mail Online)

    While trawling for something else (reference to singer Tom Jones weight-loss) I came upon this. Thought it might be of interest.

    According to the Mail Online an all party committee of MPs forming an advisory group on Osteoporosis has ‘gotten their head(s) around’ brittle bones and vitamin D and is recommending people get more sun in frequent but modest measure and WITHOUT sunscreen.

    In this instance they have recommended a low input solution. It runs refreshingly counter to the usual ‘magic bullet’ solution applied in other instances and it is a move in the right direction. ‘Not sure though, informed as the committee may be on the benefits of getting adequate sun, I doubt they are wise enough to see ‘transportability’ in their logic and that other conditions could be better addressed by targeting cause of willingness to treat or manage symptoms.


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