The very thought of cancer brings on a cold sweat and dread to anybody, but cancer is a harsh reality, one that makes us stop and look at our lifestyle. One of the most common types of cancer these days is skin cancer.
Skin Cancer is when there is an abnormal growth of skin cells, these occur mostly when the skin is exposed to the sun, but it can also occur on parts of the body where sunlight doesn’t reach.
There are three types of Skin cancer, Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. While basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are treatable if caught on early, melanoma is more serious and spreads to other tissues of the body, and is the most serious type of skin cancer. All types of skin cancer can be avoided by avoiding exposure to ultraviolet rays and radiation, and also by carefully observing any and all changes in the skin.
- Asian American and African American melanoma patients have a greater tendency than Caucasians to present with advanced disease at time of diagnosis.
- The average annual melanoma rate among Caucasians is about 22 cases per 100,000 people. In comparison, African Americans have an incidence of one case per 100,000 people. However, the overall melanoma survival rate for African Americans is only 77 percent, versus 91 percent for Caucasians.
- While melanoma is uncommon in African Americans, Latinos, and Asians, it is frequently fatal for these populations.
- Melanomas in African Americans, Asians, Filipinos, Indonesians, and native Hawaiians most often occur on non-exposed skin with less pigment, with up to 60-75 percent of tumors arising on the palms, soles, mucous membranes and nail regions.
- Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common cancer in Caucasians, Hispanics, Chinese, and Japanese populations.
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the most common skin cancer among African Americans and Asian Indians.
- Among non-Caucasians, melanoma is a higher risk for children than adults: 6.5 percent of pediatric melanomas occur in non-Caucasians.
Most skin cancers are preventable. To protect yourself, follow these skin cancer prevention tips:
- Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Because the sun's rays are strongest during this period, try to schedule outdoor activities for other times of the day, even in winter or when the sky is cloudy. You absorb UV radiation year-round, and clouds offer little protection from damaging rays. Remember, sunburns and suntans cause skin damage that can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Sun exposure accumulated over time also may cause skin cancer.
- Wear sunscreen year-round. Sunscreens don't filter out all harmful UV radiation, especially the radiation that can lead to melanoma. But they play a major role in an overall sun protection program. Sunscreens that contain ingredients such as titanium dioxide and mexoryl do a better job at blocking UVA rays. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Use a generous amount of sunscreen on all exposed skin, including your lips, the tips of your ears, and the backs of your hands and neck.
For the most protection, apply sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply it every two hours throughout the day, as well as after swimming or exercising. Apply sunscreen to young children before they go outdoors, and teach older children and teens how to use sunscreen to protect themselves. Keep sunscreen in your car as well as with your gardening tools, and sports and camping gear.
- Avoid tanning beds and tan-accelerating agents. Tanning beds emit UVA rays, which may be as dangerous as UVB rays — especially since UVA light penetrates deeper into your skin and causes precancerous skin lesions.
- Be aware of sun-sensitizing medications. Some common prescription and over-the-counter drugs — including antibiotics; certain cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes medications; birth control pills; non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others); and the acne medicine isotretinoin (Accutane) — can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects of any medications you take. If they increase your sensitivity to sunlight, be sure to take extra precautions.
In this category we are definitely in the information overload area. Conventional treatments include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and laser. Your best defense against cancer is understanding what causes it and then evaluating the changes you can make to prevent it.
If you have skin cancer do whatever is necessary to control it until you have enough information to include alternative options. Don't rely on alternative therapies alone for treating skin cancer, after you get more information you can modify your future treatments.
Eating certain foods may help prevent skin cancer. It is hard to test the role of nutrients in protecting against various forms of skin cancer, but several studies have investigated the role of antioxidants (including vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc, and vitamin A), folic acid, fats and proteins, and a variety of whole foods. While results are not absolutely clear, there may be some protective effect from antioxidants.
There may also be a protective effect from foods such as fish, beans, carrots, chard, pumpkin, cabbage, broccoli, and vegetables containing beta-carotene and vitamin C. Studies on animals suggest that lignans, substances found in foods such as soy and flaxseed, may also help fight cancer in general, including the spread of melanoma from one part of the body to another.
Other substances found in plants may help protect your skin from sun-related damage:
- Apigenin, a flavonoid found in vegetables and fruits, including broccoli, celery, onions, tomatoes, apples, cherries and grapes, and in tea and wine
- Curcumin, found in the spice turmeric
- Resveratrol, found in grape skins, red wine, and peanuts
- Quercetin, a flavonoid found in apples and onions
Selenium has been touted as an antioxidant that might help prevent skin cancer. One study, however, suggests that selenium might actually increase the risk of developing squamous cell cancer. Talk to your doctor before taking a selenium supplement.
Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet that consists mainly of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and whole grains can help your body cope with the effects of chemotherapy or other cancer treatment. Avoid foods that are high in fat and sugar; they can cause inflammation.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a health care practitioner. A number of herbs and herbal combination's are used to prevent and treat cancer in general. However, you should never use herbs alone to treat any kind of cancer.
- Green tea (Camellia sinensis) contains polyphenols, compounds that are potent antioxidants. Antioxidants eliminate free radicals, harmful by-products of cell metabolism that damage DNA and are thought to play a role in cancer. The main polyphenol in green tea is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Scientific studies suggest that EGCG and other green tea polyphenols may prevent skin tumors from starting or growing.
- Other herbs with antioxidant and skin-protecting effects include bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), milk thistle (Silybum marianum), ginger (Zingiber officinale), and hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata). Although there are no scientific studies on using these herbs to treat skin cancer, they have been used traditionally to protect the skin.
- For Kaposi's sarcoma, some naturopaths recommend a paste made from lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) cream, several drops of Hoxsey-like formula (a mixture of herbs and potassium iodide that may be effective against cancer), and powdered turmeric applied to lesions twice a day. You should only use this mixture under the close supervision of a physician.
Remember that certain herbs and nutrients can alter the way medications, including chemotherapy, act in your body. Make sure you keep your conventional and alternative health care providers informed about all the supplements, therapies, and medications you are using. Do not take any herbs or supplements without first talking to your oncologist.