Saturday, October 9, 2010

Skin Cancer Awareness

If its a fall Saturday, I must be watching football. And, during a rare moment when I didn't fast-forward through the commercials, I watched a skin cancer awareness ad that the Ad Council was running.

The message is that risk of skin cancer starts young, so don't let your children play outside in the sunshine without protection. And it shows a mom covering her little girl's bare skin with sun screen.

These days, that's probably good advice.

But, how did us monkeys survive until some other monkey invented sun-screen? Isn't it odd that we are now a species who's natural environment around us is threatening and harmful to us?

That doesn't appear to be a natural state of things. A species will evolve to suit its environment. A species that would all die off at young ages from skin cancer if it dared to walk out into the sunshine without inventing clothing or sun screen seems unlikely to survive for very long. And its not like we all just lost all our hair in one or two generations.

What's happened is that our environment has changed. The sun didn't use to be deadly to us monkeys. Today it is. Something has changed.

Its hard to spot such changes in every day life, as they happen so slowly. You can only spot them by noticing the slow changes over time. You spot these changes by noticing things like today everyone is supposed to wear sunscreen if they go out to check the mail, while 50 years ago everyone just took their shirt off and played and worked in the sun.

Some of that certainly is education and awareness. Probably we should have used more sunscreen back when we used to play and work shirtless all the time. There was some skin cancer around back then. But, judging from today's tv ads, we should have all ended up with a body covered by tumors by playing in the sun like we used to. There was some skin cancer around, but it wasn't so bad that we were all afraid to go out into the sunshine.

It seems like something has changed. During the 80's, we realized that all of the CFCs that we were releasing were doing damage to the ozone layer that helps to protect us and our skin from the sun. This was addressed by one of the rare moments of international environmental cooperation at a meeting in Montreal that led to the phase-out of these CFCs.

But, just how much damage did we do to the ozone layer that we all now have to hide beneath hats and suncreen if we want to go down to the mailbox and check the mail? You don't see any stories that document how much damage we did to our planet? You just see lots of public-service ads that tell parents to never, ever let their kids play outside without protection from the sun.

In a democracy, the people are supposed to have the information required to make good decisions. A democracy is where the people have the final say, so the people need to know the truth so they can make the decisions for their society.

We are constantly told that this path of industrialization and free markets is the only way. But, what if industrialization and free markets were responsible for doing major damage to our planet? Shouldn't we be told this clearly and plainly? Not only should we be told not to let our children play in the sunshine, but we should be told why our children can't play in the sunshine these days.

Because the answer to why lets our democracy make the appropriate choices about whether massive industrialization and unbridled free markets unhampered by regulation are really good for us. If there's a case where this led to world-wide use of CFCs which then destroyed the ozone layer so badly that our children can no longer play safely in the sunshine without protection, then that's something the people of a democracy need to know.

The information about why our children can't play in the sunshine is at least as important to a democracy as the message to parents that they should not let their children play in the sunshine. Because, if unbridled industrialization and free markets without regulation are creating a world where our children can't play in the sunshine, then we need to know about this so we can pick a better course.

Of course, that's the question for this democracy. Is it allowed to consider some very basic questions? Are unregulated free markets good for us? Has massive industrialization and growth been good for us? Is all of this creating a better world for our children? Or, are we destroying the world our children will have to inhabit?

Aren't these important questions for the free citizens of a democracy to be asking? And, if these sorts of choices have been ruled 'off-the-table' for the citizens of a democracy, doesn't that raise questions about whether we really live in a free democracy. Because, it a real democracy, the ultimate power lies with the people themselves, and nothing is 'off-the-table' unless the people put it there.

Why aren't we told why our children can't play in the sunshine without sunscreen?

From wikipedia .....
Ozone depletion

Ozone depletion describes two distinct, but related observations: a slow, steady decline of about 4 percent per decade in the total volume of ozone in Earth's stratosphere (the ozone layer) since the late 1970s, and a much larger, but seasonal, decrease in stratospheric ozone over Earth's polar regions during the same period. The latter phenomenon is commonly referred to as the ozone hole. In addition to this well-known stratospheric ozone depletion, there are also tropospheric ozone depletion events, which occur near the surface in polar regions during spring.

and later down ....
Effects on humans

UVB (the higher energy UV radiation absorbed by ozone) is generally accepted to be a contributory factor to skin cancer. In addition, increased surface UV leads to increased tropospheric ozone, which is a health risk to humans.[29]

1. Basal and Squamous Cell Carcinomas — The most common forms of skin cancer in humans, basal and squamous cell carcinomas, have been strongly linked to UVB exposure. The mechanism by which UVB induces these cancers is well understood—absorption of UVB radiation causes the pyrimidine bases in the DNA molecule to form dimers, resulting in transcription errors when the DNA replicates. These cancers are relatively mild and rarely fatal, although the treatment of squamous cell carcinoma sometimes requires extensive reconstructive surgery. By combining epidemiological data with results of animal studies, scientists have estimated that a one percent decrease in stratospheric ozone would increase the incidence of these cancers by 2%.[30]

2. Malignant Melanoma — Another form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, is much less common but far more dangerous, being lethal in about 15–20% of the cases diagnosed. The relationship between malignant melanoma and ultraviolet exposure is not yet well understood, but it appears that both UVB and UVA are involved. Experiments on fish suggest that 90 to 95% of malignant melanomas may be due to UVA and visible radiation[31] whereas experiments on opossums suggest a larger role for UVB.[30] Because of this uncertainty, it is difficult to estimate the impact of ozone depletion on melanoma incidence. One study showed that a 10% increase in UVB radiation was associated with a 19% increase in melanomas for men and 16% for women.[32] A study of people in Punta Arenas, at the southern tip of Chile, showed a 56% increase in melanoma and a 46% increase in nonmelanoma skin cancer over a period of seven years, along with decreased ozone and increased UVB levels.[33]

3. Cortical Cataracts — Studies are suggestive of an association between ocular cortical cataracts and UV-B exposure, using crude approximations of exposure and various cataract assessment techniques. A detailed assessment of ocular exposure to UV-B was carried out in a study on Chesapeake Bay Watermen, where increases in average annual ocular exposure were associated with increasing risk of cortical opacity.[34] In this highly exposed group of predominantly white males, the evidence linking cortical opacities to sunlight exposure was the strongest to date. However, subsequent data from a population-based study in Beaver Dam, WI suggested the risk may be confined to men. In the Beaver Dam study, the exposures among women were lower than exposures among men, and no association was seen.[35] Moreover, there were no data linking sunlight exposure to risk of cataract in African Americans, although other eye diseases have different prevalences among the different racial groups, and cortical opacity appears to be higher in African Americans compared with whites.[36][37]

4. Increased Tropospheric Ozone — Increased surface UV leads to increased tropospheric ozone. Ground-level ozone is generally recognized to be a health risk, as ozone is toxic due to its strong oxidant properties. At this time, ozone at ground level is produced mainly by the action of UV radiation on combustion gases from vehicle exhausts.[citation needed]

Put the numbers together. A 4% decrease in the ozone layer per decade. And a 2% increase in skin cancer for every 1% of increase in UV radiation. You can't just add them together, since the first is the decrease in volume of the ozone and that's probably not linearly related to the amount of UV radiation penetrating the ozone layer.

But still, our ozone layer took a big hit. And now, for every 1% of extra UV radiation that results, skin cancer rates go up by 2%.

When we make a mistake, there's often not much we can do but to live with the consequences. Except, that we can try to learn and not make the same mistake again. And in this case, shouldn't our democracy be asking how it was we let our industries pump so much of these gasses into our atmosphere and do this damage. Shouldn't we learn to be more careful.

In this age of propaganda against government regulations and any government interference in businesses and their making of profits, we should stop and think every single time we put sunscreen on our children whether all of this is really making a better world for our children.

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