Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 1, 2012

Debunking a cancer prevention myth


— I eat a minimum of processed meats that contain nitrites.

I drink from a stainless steel water bottle instead of my old plastic one to avoid BPA leeching into my water.

I wash my pesticide-covered produce in vegetable soap.

I gave up saccharin soon after my high school girlfriends stopped having Tab belching contests.

I buy milk that doesn’t come from cows given growth hormones.

I pick out the bluest, reddest, orangest, greenest fruits and vegetables I can find.

I gave birth, and I breastfed a relatively long time — not so long that my son asked in coherent paragraphs to be fed, but long enough for me to know he had a mouthful of teeth.

Despite all of that, apparently all I needed to know about breast cancer prevention was that I should have dug my bikini out of the museum and hit the tanning bed awhile ago. I could have avoided breast cancer surgery, radiation and gotten a bonus Malibu Barbie look.

To illustrate the tanning-cancer prevention theory, the Paddlefish Days parade today in Madison Lake, Minn., is to feature bikini-clad women who are marching to raise money for the Breast Cancer Natural Prevention Foundation, which advocates cancer prevention through ultraviolet light exposure. (I’m not sure how to break this to my friend who has melanoma.)

The parade whipped up lots of publicity as more than 450 women in bikinis were supposed to descend to break a world record and because the cancer-prevention premise seems wacky. Call it The Race for the Cocoa Butter.

My Mayo Clinic oncologist and all of the other medical experts I’ve seen in the last couple of years never mentioned ultraviolet light exposure as a good way to prevent cancer. After my breast cancer diagnosis, they surveyed me about my physical development, lifestyle, analyzed my blood, sent me to a genetic counselor, and talked about family history.

Not once did they ask if I or any of my family members spent a lot of time in Australia or frequently visited tanning booths.

After I started a drug that is supposed to remove estrogen from my body, which is thought to feed cancer, my oncologist said I need lots of calcium and vitamin D to keep my bones strong. And along with fortified milk and certain foods, the sun is, indeed, a source of vitamin D. But he did not recommend soaking in the sun or in tanning beds for hours or mention anything about bikinis.

I guess that’s why the Internet is such a good source for that extra medical advice. (Note to my 13-year-old son: Yes, this is sarcasm. Now turn off the computer. I know that your headache is tied to the four ice cream bars you ate in an hour, not the brain tumor symptoms described on

The dermapathologist at the Mankato Clinic told The Free Press that science has never proven that a lack of vitamin D causes cancer. Dr. James Benzmiller went on to say that even if that link were established, he wouldn’t recommend tanning because there is no safe threshold for ultraviolet exposure. It’s a fact not a theory that UV radiation is cancer causing.

I’ve got a hunch that this claim that UV exposure prevents breast cancer is another one of those cancer myths that lurks around every corner. Sort of like the book I ran across by a panic-stricken woman who said breast cancer survivors should never touch a drop of alcohol again.

I’m going to pour myself a glass of antioxidant-pumped red wine and mull that over before I bury my bikini for good.


Kathy Vos is an editor at the Mankato, Minn., Free Press. Contact her at