Skin cancer not ‘relatively new,’ dates back more than 200 years

The claim: Skin cancer is ‘relatively new,’ only emerged in past 60 years

A July 28 Instagram video (direct link, archived link) shows children swimming and playing outdoors and a woman walking on a beach.

“Skin cancer is a relatively new phenomenon in the last 60 years or so,” says a woman speaking in the video, going on to place the blame on the “the way we’re eating.” The 60 years claim also appears in text placed over the video.

It was liked more than 500 times in six days.

Follow us on Facebook! Like our page to get updates throughout the day on our latest debunks

Our rating: False

Medical journals show skin cancer was detected more than 200 years ago. While the disease is diagnosed more frequently now, experts say it has been a health concern for much longer than 60 years.

Skin cancer likely around ‘from the beginning of human time’

The audio in the post came from a 2004 infomercial featuring Dr. Lorraine Day, a surgeon who claims to have reversed her own cancer with alternative therapies. She promotes those treatments on her website.

In an email to USA TODAY, the 86-year-old Day said, “When I was young, almost NO ONE had cancer, and virtually NO ONE had skin cancer.” She attributed the increase to dietary changes that include the introduction of fast food and processed foods.

But medical publications show records of skin cancer more than 200 years ago, and experts say the most common cause is exposure to ultraviolet rays in sunlight, according to the American Cancer Society.

“In terms of diet causing skin cancer, there’s no evidence of that,” said Dr. Puneet Jolly, professor of dermatology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

The first description of melanoma – the most serious type of skin cancer – dates to 1804 and came from the same French doctor who 12 years later invented the stethoscope, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Skin cancer “has been around, like cancer, probably from the beginning of human time,” said Dr. April Salama, an oncologist at the Duke Cancer Center who specializes in skin cancer treatment.

Fact check: UV radiation causes sunburns, skin cancer

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The most common types of skin cancers are basal and squamous cell cancers.

Diagnoses and treatments of non-melanoma skin cancers climbed 77% between 1994 and 2014, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. The American Cancer Society attributes increases in diagnoses to improved skin cancer detection, more exposure to the sun and longer average lifespans.

“One of the most well-established, modifiable risk factors is UV exposure, and we have that from solid epidemiological data on the harms of UV exposure and increasing risk of skin cancer from that,” Salama said.

USA TODAY reached out to the user who shared the post but did not receive a response.

PolitiFact also debunked the claim.

Our fact-check sources:

  • Dr. April Salama, Aug. 2, Phone interview with USA TODAY

  • Dr. Puneet Jolly, Aug. 2, Phone interview with USA TODAY

  • Dr. Lorraine Day, Aug. 2, Email exchange with USA TODAY

  • Green Fuse (YouTube), June 18, 2014, Dr. Lorraine Day

  • Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, May 2015, The history of skin cancer

  • National Library of Medicine, September 2006, Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laënnec (1781–1826): The Man Behind the Stethoscope

  • Mayo Clinic, July 22, Melanoma

  • American Academy of Dermatology, April 22, 2022, Skin cancer

  • Skin Cancer Foundation, January 2023, Skin Cancer Facts and Statistics

  • American Cancer Society, July 10, 2019, Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation

  • American Cancer Society, Jan. 12, 2023, Key Statistics for Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or e-newspaper here.

Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: False claim skin cancer has only been around for 60 years | Fact check

Leave a Comment