How Sunlight Ages Skin and Promotes Cancer


An unwritten rule in science is that we don’t understand something until we know how it works.  We see that people who are out in the sun a lot get wrinkled skin.  Does that mean sunlight causes the wrinkles, or is there something else?

Well, now we know.

The answer to the question also answers another age old question for many:  why did I have to take chemistry in high school?

The key concept is the free radical — no, not a terrorist out of jail.  It’s an atom that’s missing a valence electron and thus becomes highly reactive with other elements.  In this case, those other elements are part of the DNA of skin cells.

Ultraviolet rays in sunlight (UVA and UVB) create free radicals of oxygen in upper and lower layers of skin.  This radicals can alter the DNA in these cells, particularly in the mitochondria — the “power plant” of the cell that drives continuation and reproduction.

These changes in mitochondria cause (1) the loss of elastin and collagen (hence wrinkling) and (2) onset and aggravation of skin cancers.  Not good.

Thanks to a research team at the University of Newcastle (UK), these processes have been demonstrated and documented.  That matters because it moves the discussion of the role of sunlight from conjecture and hypothesis to fact.  It can also lead to the creation of more effective sun screens.

The finding comes at a very opportune time.  We are experiencing a rapid growth in diagnosis of melanoma.  There has been a debate about whether this growth is due to better diagnostic tools or to a real increase in cancer incidence.

We also know that loss of ozone and other changes in the earth’s atmosphere is increasing our exposure to the UVA and UVB components of sunlight.  These changes are putting humans at risk — today, not at some remote time in the future.

These findings also end the discussion as to whether tanning beds are safe.  We now know how they harm people.  Damage is immediate.  There is no safe age.

Whether we can get governments to act, it’s essential for individuals to protect themselves and to do so immediately.  End of discussion.

A tan may be fashionable.  Wrinkles usually aren’t.  Cancer never is.

UVA and UVB rays are also major issues with rosacea (source:  Medscape).  Daily use of a broad spectrum sunscreen is recommended for all persons with rosacea.


(1) Jennifer A Latimer, James J Lloyd, Brian L Diffey, Paul J Matts, Mark A Birch-Machin. Determination of the Action Spectrum of UVR-Induced Mitochondrial DNA Damage in Human Skin Cells. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/jid.2015.194

(2) Newcastle University. “Action spectrum of sun skin damage documented.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 June 2015. <>.




(6) “The Epidemic of Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer,”

Cancer and the Limits of Medical Technology


Why does a Steve Jobs die from cancer when he has the wealth and connections to obtain treatments to which most of us have no access?  The problem lies in part in an issue on which your doctor doesn’t want you to obsess.  Your doctor doesn’t necessarily know where your cancer is.

Sure, you can see a mass on an MRI or a contrast CT.  However, that’s a mass — a large cluster of cancer cells.  What currently available imaging technology cannot identify are small clusters and individual cells that are on the edges of the mass, or may even have separated from the mass and moved elsewhere.

The medical community no longer practices whole body radiation, because of the potential damage that can result.  If you don’t have cancer in some areas of your body, radiation can induce it.  However, that means that cancer cells that you do have and that have separated from the main mass will be neither removed nor treated.

That’s why new technologies that can allow imaging of individual cells are so important (example:  However, these technologies are still years away from being available on a widespread basis.

The alternative is when doing cancer surgery to take more tissue than is absolutely required to remove the known mass.  Doing that can improve results.   Example:  removing more tissue can reduce the need for a second surgery for breast cancer,–+ScienceDaily%29.

However, in the case of brain or prostate cancer, removal of “excess” tissue can be catastrophic for the patient.  Further, there is no guarantee that stray cancer clusters will only be in the vicinity of the target mass.  The surgeon can take the extra tissue and still not rid the body of the cancer.

My wife carries a capillary pool from an abdominal cancer she had 30 years ago.  Surgeons are afraid to work around the pool, lest they unleash cancer cells sealed inside it.  They don’t know if there are cancer cells present or not.

There has been some discussion of Google working on a nanotechnology solution — nano particles that would identify, attach to and destroy cancer cells.  Like other new technologies, if that ever comes to fruition, most people probably won’t be able to afford it.

As much as we don’t want to hear this, there is no certainty in life, much less in medicine.

May 31, 2015

High Heeled Shoes and Emergency Rooms


The rate of injury associated with wearing these shoes doubled between 2002 and 2012, according to a new report from researchers at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.  In the 10-year period studied, there were 123,355 injuries attributable to high-heeled shoes (defined as having heels of 2 inches or greater) and requiring visits to ERs for treatment.  Typical victims were women in their 20s.    80% of injuries involved the foot or ankle, although there were some injuries to the upper body and head.

When does fashion become insanity?


The Myth of Drug Pricing

Drugs cost more in the US than in other countries.  No, we’re not talking knock-offs by Chinese manufacturers.  We’re talking the same pills you are taking.  Same companies.  Same manufacturing facilities.

The pharma industry asked the US Congress for extended patent protection in the US as an incentive to promote research into new drugs. That’s why you pay more — a lot more.  In fact, you may find that the price for some drugs in Canada is less than your insurance copay for the same product.  Check  However, note, Congress has made it illegal for US residents to purchase drugs outside the US.  People still do it.

I came across this when looking at prices for Advair, an inhaler that I use.  Within the US, list prices range from $310 to upwards of $400 for this product.  In Canada, it’s available without insurance for $79.

In 2013, a group of leukemia specialists wrote an open letter to the FDA arguing that the high costs of cancer drugs is placing patients’ lives at risk.   The lead author for the group was Dr. Hagop Kantarjian MD, from the Department of Leukemia at the University of Texas M.D. Andersen Cancer Center in Houston.  The group argued that 10% of patients are skipping medicines due to cost, placing their lives at risk.

Cancer drugs used to cost on the order of $5,000 per month — itself a steep amount if the patient’s insurance has a 20% copay.  Now the drugs have more than doubled to upwards of $10,000 per month.

In one case, imatinib (Gleevec, Novartis), the drug company TRIPLED the cost of the drug from $30,000 per year to $92,000 after more expensive drugs were introduced.  The original cost was ample in terms of covering investment in research; the increase was pure profit-taking.

In fact, the entire R&D incentive argument is a bad joke.  Pharma companies are more likely today to buy a small company that has developed a new product than to actually do research themselves.

In fact, Huffington reported in 2012 that for every $1 that drug companies spend on R&D, they spend $19 on marketing and PR.

So, what’s a responsible consumer supposed to do?

(1) Check third party websites for information on drug pricing.  Drugs can vary dramatically in cost just between US pharmacies.  Even if you have insurance, you’re paying these costs through your insurance rates.

(2)  Look at prices from Canada.  I’m not advising you to break the law, but you need to know what your options are.  You need to do what you need to do for your family.  Pushing this information at your pharmacist may encourage him to find ways to reduce your costs.

(3)  There are third party drug discount cards that can trim a few more dollars of what you are spending, even with insurance.  Many of these are free.

(4)  Scream at your Congressmen for putting up with the pharma charade.  In fact, the drug industry is one of the largest contributors to Congress (big surprise); they’re taking drug money in order to keep laws in place that rip you off.Type your paragraph here.

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