American Cancer Society Duped By Sunscreen Maker
As reported in the New York Times (7/07 Doctors Balk at Cancer Ad, Citing Lack of Evidence): The young woman in the American Cancer Society advertisement holds up a photograph of a smiling blonde. "My sister accidentally killed herself. She died of skin cancer," reads the headline. The public service announcement, financed by the sunscreen maker Neutrogena, is running in 15 women's magazines this summer. It warns readers that "left unchecked, skin cancer can be fatal," and urges them to "use sunscreen, cover up and watch for skin changes."
The woman in the picture is a model, not a skin cancer victim. And the advertisement's implicit message, that those who die of skin cancer have themselves to blame, has provoked a sharp response from some public-health doctors, who say the evidence simply does not support it. As the advertisement says, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. But most skin cancer is not life-threatening: it represents less than 2 percent of all cancer deaths, an estimated 10,850 people this year. Almost all of those deaths are from melanoma, which makes up only 6 percent of all skin-cancer cases.
Some public-health doctors are responding with sharp criticism, pointing out there is no clear evidence supporting the link between sun exposure and death from skin cancer. According to Dr. Barry Kramer, associate director for disease prevention at the National Institutes of Health, "There's very little evidence that sunscreens protect you against melanoma, yet you often hear that as the dominant message."
Dr. Lisa Schwartz added, in reference to Neutrogena's financial support of the campaign, "When people see an American Cancer Society PSA they expect it to reflect the best evidence. We don't want people who have a financial interest to be telling you the benefit of doing something."
And the link between melanoma and sun exposure is not straightforward. Dr. Marianne Berwick, an epidemiologist at the University of New Mexico who studies skin cancer, led a study published in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2005 finding that people who had a lot of sun exposure up to the time they got a diagnosis of melanoma actually had better survival rates than those who had little sun exposure. The researchers are conducting a large-scale follow-up aimed at clarifying the relationship between sun exposure and melanoma.
Until that is made clear, many doctors say, it is premature to suggest that people are endangering their lives by failing to use sunscreen. "It's just not that simple," said Dr. Barry Kramer, associate director for disease prevention at the National Institutes of Health. "We do have some pretty good evidence that sunscreen will reduce your risk of the less lethal forms of skin cancer," Dr. Kramer added. "There's very little evidence that sunscreens protect you against melanoma, yet you often hear that as the dominant message."
"Here we have yet another MAJOR scam or complete lack of understanding about the true cause of disease which results in massive misinformation that confuses people and worsens their health by depriving them of one of the most important vitamins known to man, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola (www.mercola.com). "The American Cancer Society has once again continued to promote fantasy rather than facts in their latest anti-sun ad campaign. The link between sun exposure and skin cancer is vastly overblown, and there is little, if any, evidence that sunscreens actually protect you against melanoma. It's not hard to see why these ads are being shown, considering that they are being funded by sunscreen maker Neutrogena (something that goes unmentioned in the ads themselves), which stands to benefit financially from the message."
Neutrogena Named In Un-Related Lawsuit
A class action lawsuit filed last year in California (N.Y. Post "Sunscreen Claims False,Suit Says" 3/06) alleges that makers of such popular sunscreens as Coppertone, Hawaiian Tropic, Neutrogena and Banana Boat have "lied about the effectiveness of their products in blocking ultraviolet sun rays."Sunscreen is the snake oil of the 21st Century," said Samuel Rudman, one of the attorneys in the case.
The allegations surfaced when nine earlier lawsuits over sunscreen problems were combined in March (06) by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carl West. The suit says millions of Americans, particularly children, are unknowingly exposed too long to the most harmful rays of the sun because they believe sunscreen is shielding them from damaging rays. Manufacturers also use false claims on their labels, saying that the sunscreens are waterproof and block all types of ultraviolet rays. "The main element being blocked is the truth," said Mitchell Twersky, another attorney on the case. "They're not waterproof, and all the ingredients in the sunscreens will eventually dissolve in water," he said. He said the lawsuit isn't a personal-injury case and is aimed at halting the allegedly false claims about sunscreen.
Manufacturers named in the suit include Schering-Plough (Coppertone); Sun Pharmaceuticals and Playtex Products (Banana Boat); Tanning Research Laboratories (Hawaiian Tropic); Neutrogena Corp. and Johnson & Johnson (Neutrogena); and Chattem Inc. (Bullfrog). The two lawyers said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission had probed sunscreens in the late 1990s and found them to be lacking and involved in misleading marketing. But new proposed rules created to solve the problems were blocked by lobbyists in October 2001, said Rudman. "The industry's lobbyists - with a legal team led by John Roberts before he became a judge and Supreme Court Justice - managed to put it all on ice," he said.
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