by Sharon Beder
Another worry brought up by Barnetson is that, although sunscreens seem to prevent sunburn, there is still a loss of white blood cells in the blood resulting from UV irradiation and sunscreens don't seem to reverse that process. With a sunscreen on, the number of Langerhans cells remain the same as you would normally have, without radiation, but there is a loss of white blood cells actually in the blood. This loss is called systemic immune suppression. It means that not only does the sun have an effect on the skin, it also has an effect on the immune system elsewhere, as well. So getting a skin cancer may be from the loss of Langerhans cells but it may also be from the loss of immunity. It is probably a bit of both.
Nevertheless Barnetson does not believe it is feasible to prevent Australians from going out into the sun and getting a tan. Obviously people should be more cautious about getting sunburned but you are not going to prevent every Australian from going to the beach. They like it, they enjoy it, so do I. So I think that you have got to persuade them to be sensible. But to say to them that they must never go out in the sun for instance is a bit like telling people that they mustn't drink or they mustn't smoke. It just doesn't work. There is a lot of evidence now that it is sunburn that creates a lot of the problems but it is still not the whole story. I think if you can persuade people not to get sunburned that does make a difference.
Barnetson also believes that medical authorities should play a more active role. He is worried that skin cancer hasn’t been given the priority that he thinks it deserves, especially when the depletion of ozone is considered. He would like to see the National Health and Medical Research Council saying that skin cancer has got to be looked at pretty hard because it is going to increase by 20% over the next 20 years or so.