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Skin cancer experts row over causes

Doctors warned the public yesterday to ignore claims from two skin-cancer experts that there were no research links between malignant melanoma and exposure to sunlight.

People should continue to use sun-cream and cover up to avoid potentially fatal skin diseases, despite the latest findings, said cancer specialists. They called on Sam Shuster and Jonathan Rees, professors of dermatology at Newcastle University, to justify their statements that some doctors and sun-cream manufacturers have exaggerated the link.

The claim was based on analysis of data published around the world which showed that growths often occurred on parts of the body that receive little or no sun, such as backs of legs or soles of feet. Professor Shuster and Professor Rees also said there was evidence that risk of the disease was inherited and that it occurred in countries where sunbathing was not popular.

Such claims were reckless and should be disregarded unless they could be proven, said Mark Rose, who treats skin cancer patients at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital. "The link between the Sun and skin cancer has been known for many years. It's been proven.'' Australia, where 5,000 people a year develop the disease and nearly 1,000 die, has led the world in skin-cancer awareness.

Tony Quinn, consultant dermatologist at London's St Bartholomew's Hospital and skin-cancer researcher for the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said the link between melanoma and sunshine was complicated, but not in doubt.

"This publicity is unfortunate, because people might get confused. They should not stop the good habits of covering themselves up and using sun-cream.''