Cancer Society cuts and runs over sunscreen claims

The Emperor Has No Clothes

The Cancer Society cuts and runs over sunscreens


For decades, the Cancer Society and its affiliates have dominated the news media every summer, urging people to use sunscreen to protect against deadly melanoma. The society makes millions from sunscreen marketing, and other melanoma charities are sponsored by sunscreen companies. So when the Cancer Society took a swipe at the sunbed industry before Christmas, IAN WISHART asked them for a little hard evidence to support their own activities. As you’ll see, the Cancer Society doesn’t have any….


From: Lynne St Clair-Chapman
To: Investigate magazine
Sent: Thursday, 15 November 2012 10:12 AM
Subject: Sunbeds on skid row

Thursday 15 November, 2012

Sunbeds on skid row

As part of the Sunbed Action Group the Cancer Society is delighted by the private member’s bill: Health (Skin Cancer and Trauma Prevention) Amendment put forward by Dr Paul Hutchison MP and Health Select Chair. “We have worked long and hard to highlight that exposure to UVR from sunbed use is not only unnecessary but dangerous,” said Health Promotion Manager, Dr Jan Pearson.

“We support Dr Hutchison’s initiative to protect New Zealand consumers from unnecessary sunbed danger – especially our impressionable youth. The latest Consumer NZ mystery shopper sunbed survey, published in September 2012, has again shown that many sunbed operators are not complying with their current voluntary standard. Dr Hutchison’s bill, when passed, will ensure those who provide sunbed services are licensed and regulated. Licensing and regulating the providers will give consumers some assurance that the service they are paying for has some safeguards.”

Every year over 300 New Zealanders die from Melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer. Skin cancer is New Zealand’s most common cancer. “Tightening up the way sunbed operators work is one step we can take to reduce our high skin cancer rates and reduce the cost to our health system. We applaud the New South Wales announcement in February 2012 to ban sunbeds, commencing in 2015,” added Dr Pearson.

The introduction of the new law will ensure:
•    Those under 18 and those with very fair skin will not be allowed to use a sunbed
•    All consumers will be fully informed of the risks (although no sunbeds are safe from risk)
•    All sunbeds will be operated by someone who is a licensed provider who adheres to all the safety requirements.
“The time to regulate providers of sunbed and other associated services has come.”

For further information contact:
Lynne St.Clair-Chapman,
National Communications Manager
Cancer Society of New Zealand

From: Ian Wishart]
Sent: Thursday, 15 November 2012 11:17 a.m.
To: Lynne
Cc: Paul Hutchison MP
Subject: Re: Sunbeds on skid row

Hi Lynne

I’m curious to know whether the Cancer Society intends to adhere to advertising standards this year by not making any reference to sunscreen helping “protect” from melanoma.

Does the Society accept that its promotion of sunscreen has been seriously misleading?

I refer, of course, to the lack of a single credible study showing sunscreens offer any benefit against melanoma, as opposed to a number of credible studies that show regular use of sunscreens is linked to much higher rates of melanoma.

Given the studies now available in the peer reviewed literature, which is more likely: a), that sunbeds are responsible for our high melanoma rates, or b) that promotion of sunscreens that don’t work (all of them) has lulled the NZ public into a false sense of security for three decades, resulting in much higher melanoma rates, consistent with the findings in the literature?

Given that the Cancer Society overall receives income of between half a million and a million PER YEAR (I have the annual reports) from marketing ineffective sunscreens, I await your explanation as to whether the Society has a conflict of interest, and whether that conflict of interest blinded it to the peer reviewed science showing its products simply don’t work, therefore causing greater rates of melanoma..

The Cancer Society’s role, in my view, is nothing short of a national scandal.


Ian Wishart

PS, this is not to say that sunbeds don’t have an impact on melanoma, but if we are being completely honest, false promotion of sunscreen that links it in any way to fatal skin cancers is much more likely to be a factor..

From: Ian Wishart
Sent: Wednesday, 21 November 2012 1:49 p.m.
To:  Lynne St. Clair-Chapman
Cc: Paul Hutchison MP
Subject: RE: Sunbeds on skid row

Haven’t had any reply to this….should I note this publicly?



From: Lynne St.Clair-Chapman]
Sent: Wednesday, 21 November 2012 2:49 p.m.
To: ‘’
Subject: Skin Cancer

Dear Ian

As you are aware the Cancer Society aims to reduce the incidence of skin cancer – both Melanoma and Non Melanoma by recommending people protect themselves from the sun during peak UVR times using, hats , shade, clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen.

Please find attached a research report from the Journal of Oncology that used a RCT to determine that sunscreen use does reduce the incidence of Melanoma and a recent Research Review on Sun Screens for your information.




From pages 192 and 193 of Vitamin D by Ian Wishart:

On the basis of the science above, why are health agencies continuing to make these statements?

An Australian study often quoted by supporters of sunscreens was published in 2011.[i] It looked at an initial five year trial period and then a 10 year follow up, and found that regular users of broad spectrum sunscreens were less likely to develop primary mela­nomas. Critics, however, remain unconvinced.

“The study had serious limitations: the authors admit­ted that the results were marginally statistically signifi­cant; intervention sites of sunscreen application were chosen for non-melanoma skin cancer and excluded the trunk and extremities, where melanomas often occur; and the entire body was analysed for melanomas, not just the intervention site. Thus, despite providing some of the first evidence supporting sunscreen’s ability to prevent melanoma, these results are controversial and by no means conclusive.”[ii]

In addition, a follow-up analysis published in the same journal working from the same Australian data actu­ally found a higher rate of melanomas on areas that had been allegedly ‘protected’ by broad spectrum sunscreen.

You’ll recall the studies quoted earlier where school­children who used sunscreen regularly in controlled studies were actually more likely to develop melanoma precursors. The reason for this can possibly now be seen in context. By building a sun-safety message anchored primarily in the need for pharmaceutical companies to make a buck out of sunscreens, we have created a false but widespread public belief that sun exposure is easily controlled through sunscreens. It just isn’t true. There are screeds of studies that prove sunscreens are effective at protecting against ageing of the skin, and against largely harmless forms of skin cancer. But let’s face it, the real reason most people slop on the sun­screen is because they fear the Big-M that the media constantly warn them about.

So what happens when people swap their natural defence against melanoma (a suntan), for a solution obtained from a bottle that turns out to be ineffec­tive? Melanoma rates go up despite increasing usage of sunscreens, and that’s exactly what has happened since 1935.]

From: Ian Wishart
Sent: Friday, 23 November 2012 11:28 a.m.
To: Lynne St.Clair-Chapman
Cc: Paul Hutchison MP
Subject: RE: Skin Cancer

Dear Lynne

Thanks for the email and the study you attached. As you will be aware, that study has been largely debunked in the peer reviewed literature because of seriously flawed methodology. I did cover this particular study in my book and include the scientific debate on page 192 of the book. Dr Pearson is well aware that this study is regarded as compromised.

Why does the Cancer Society continue to rely on a study that is not credible? Is this the best evidence you can find to support thirty years of false marketing?

In the Education Review you supplied, I see your dermatology advisers on the new sunscreen standards are still falsely linking sunscreens to melanoma prevention:

“To help both consumers and health professionals optimise sunscreen use and prevent skin cancers and melanoma, NZ and Australian Standard has recently been updated.”

The Review also quotes the now falsified economics regarding sunscreens and melanoma prevention:

“The same research group recently refined its findings in a cost-effectiveness analysis of daily sunscreen use for preventing skin cancer using a Markov model that utilised a combined household and government perspective.34 It was found that the discounted incremental cost per QALY gained from the sunscreen intervention was AU$40,890. It was also calculated that 33 melanomas, 168 SCCs and four melanoma-related deaths would be prevented at a cost of approximately AU$808,000 over the intervention cohort’s projected lifetime, and that the sunscreen intervention had a 64% probability of being cost effective at a willingness-to-pay threshold of AU$50,000 per QALY gained. The conclusion was that the best available evidence suggests probable long-term cost effectiveness of promoting routine sunscreen use in white individuals living in areas of high sun exposure”

Given that no credible scientific study has found sunscreens can prevent melanoma, the above claims have no credibility either.

So I return to my main points which the Cancer Society has not answered:

Does the Society intend to adhere to advertising standards this summer by NOT linking sunscreen use in any way to melanoma prevention, given that you have no credible evidence to support the claim?

Does the Society accept that its promotion of sunscreens in this regard over the decades has been seriously misleading?

Does the Cancer Society accept that it may have caused the deaths of thousands of New Zealanders by falsely offering sunscreens as a preventative against melanoma despite a lack of evidence to support the claim?

What is the Society’s response to the allegation that its own misleading statements have killed more people than sunbeds have in this country?

What is the Society’s response to the allegation that it has a major conflict of interest in this area, being both a commercial marketer of sunscreens and a supposedly objective advisory body on skin cancer?

What is the Society’s response to the allegation that it is blind to the peer reviewed studies that either show sunscreens are ineffective against melanoma, or in fact that sunscreen use is linked with an up to three times higher risk of developing melanoma?

I look forward to an on the record response that actually answers the questions.

Yours sincerely.

Ian Wishart


To Order the Vitamin D book, click here



[i] “Reduced Melanoma after Sunscreen Use”, Green et al, Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2011; 29:257-263


[ii] “UV Protection and Sunscreens etc”, Jou et al, citing a follow up response, “Increased Melanoma After Regular Sunscreen Use?”, Goldenhersh & Koslowsky, Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2011, 29:e557-e558

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