Was skin cancer much more widespread before sunblock?

I would think that it obviously would be, but then again, wouldn’t countless civilizations living outdoors have noticed the ill effects of the sun before?

Were they ignorant to what is now known as UV skin damage? Do UV rays affect us differently now? If skin cancer is a fairly major concern now, why wasn’t it back then?

WAG: People are living longer now so skin cancer has become relatively more common. Also, people are living in parts of the globe they are genetically not adapted for. People with darker skin tend to be more resistant to skin cancer. But when you have people of nordic complexion living in Australia or California, then skin cancer will increase.

Bear in mind as well that until less than 100 years ago, fair-skinned people sheltered themselves from strong sun – big hats, parasols etc. Actively seeking a suntan is a fairly recent fashion.

Malignant melanomas can occur at any age, the other main types of skin cancer (Squamous cell or SCC and Basal cell or BCC) are much more common in people over 50.

The people who would have had most sun exposure (farmers, field workers, navvies, construction workers etc) were also the ones less likely to reach old age because of their social circumstances.

So it’s partly that people are living longer, and partly that people were exposing more skin to the sun.

My grandmother lived in Southern Africa (South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe) for more than 60 years. She had an SCC removed from her face aged 70, and by no means was the only person of her acquaintance to be affected. Many caucasian Australians over 60 have also had an SCC or BCC removed.

Having dark skin isn’t a complete protection from the sun. A Kenyan friend or mine went back on a visit after some years away and still got sunburned. It is believed that Bob Marley died from the brain metastases originating in a malignant melanoma on his toe. No matter how dark your skin is, you should still wear sunscreen (albeit of a lower factor) and take precautions in the sun.

Rich ones did, anyway.

Rich ones did, anyway.

At least in the US, hats have also largely gone out of fashion…I know, I know, people still wear them, but not by default as my parents generation did.

You can get skin cancer anywhere, but the scalp is conceled by hair, and thus more likely to go un-noticed until it is too late.

Well, no, most of them did. Have you not seen what farmers wore 100 years ago? Long sleeves, long pants, and hat were the rule year round when working in the field. And if you ever hefted a bale of straw, you would see why they didn’t want to do it wearing shorts and a tank top.

Also, the ozone hole is probably having an impact on the number of people getting skin cancers in the Southern hemisphere - due to not having more of a filter from the sun. I think NZ has the highest rate at the moment, followed by Australia. We live under the ozone hole. In summer, the fair skinned (that’s me) burn in less than 10 minutes. I think (can’t be bothered finding evidence) the latest skin cancer research indicates that it is the amount of times you were sun burnt as a child that has some bearing on getting melonomas as an adult.
Most responsible parents in NZ and Australia get their kids into ‘sunsuits’ that cover up most of their children’s bodies for swimming and spending time outside. They look like wetsuits, only they are nylon.

Forgot to add: although there is some debate over just what the ozone hole is, how fast it is growing and what causes it, it is believed by some that industrial pollution is causing it. This ofcourse, wouldn’t have been such an issue in times past.

There was also the issue of modesty. No woman of any class who didn’t want a bad reputation would be exposing much skin. And men typically also weren’t going around bare chested.

The tradition of farmers covering themselves up never ended. In the 1960’s I remember that farmers wore straw hats, long-sleeved shirts, and overalls while riding tractors around their fields. I don’t remember what reason they usually gave, but they knew to cover up.

I don’t think there’s that much controversy anymore over what the hole in the ozone layer is and what’s causing it - scientists have pretty much agreed on that one, and you can find out more info at the Union of Concerned Scientists site. Politicians like to pretend that it’s still not certain because then they don’t have to do anything about it, but worldwide, scientists are pretty much in agreement.

But yeah, to get back on-topic, the hole in the ozone layer became noticeable in 1980, and would be contributing to an increased incidence of skin cancer in Australia and New Zealand. Add that to it being fashionable to have a tan, and fashions for clothes that reveal more skin, people being more likely to travel to spend time at the beach/a swimming pool as a leisure activity, longer life-spans, and the increased amount of skin cancer doesn’t look that surprising.

It might also be that, too, we are more aware of cancer than in times past. A hundred years ago, someone might well have died due to the result of a secondary affection from metastasized cancer (via stroke, hemorrage, immune system failure, infection, et cetera) without having the primary affliction identified. As Chuck Palanik points out in Fight Club: “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” It’s just a matter of what’s going to get you first; if it isn’t the hippopotomus, warfare, or Poliomyelitis, then it’s going to be a plane crash, alcholic cihrrosis, or cancer, if not the trophy bride who is growing impatient with your refusal to lie down and pass on your fiscal assets in a timely manner.

Fhew! Never heard that one, but that’s a bad note, to go from a bump on the toe to a blast in the brain. That’s enough to make anyone paranoid.


When you read this from Wikipedia;

You do wonder about chances of recovery :dubious:

I was using Bob Marley as an example of people to show that people with darker skins (he was bi-racial) can still get skin cancer, not that people shouldn’t get it treated when they have it!

People with darker skins who tan easily and don’t burn may believe that this gives them complete immunity to sun damage, and that they don’t need to wear sunscreen. That is untrue.