Crucial Tips to Safeguard Against Skin Cancer
Last Updated: Mar 16, 2017
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May is Skin Cancer (and Melanoma) Awareness Month. Though tips for preventing skin cancer are easy to come by, for some reason we humans will still plan for long, leisurely afternoons by a pool or on a beach this summer. So how can you enjoy the warm summer months, soak up essential vitamin D and still protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays? And what about if you happen to be genetically predisposed to skin cancer? What then? Read on to learn some vital information about preventing skin cancer and keeping your skin youthful, beautiful and healthy. Though no single tip here should be practiced alone (in this case, more is more, and most should be done in conjunction with the others), by adding these safeguards to your daily routine, you’ll be on your way to strong, healthy skin all year long. And these little tidbits could save your skin and your life.
IS IT ALL IN THE FAMILY?
In safeguarding against any disease or ailment, it’s prudent to surmise all risk factors and apply preventive measures as necessary. Not all skin cancers are genetic, but one of the most basic ways to determine risk factors is to analyze family history. If skin cancer or melanoma has occurred at least once or twice in a family, it is safe to assume the risk for that disease is higher in that family. The National Cancer Institute states: "Generally, a family history of melanoma appears to increase risk of melanoma by about twofold." People can also have an increased risk of getting skin cancer due to a genetic mutation (even if they’ve not seen skin cancer in the family). One example is found in people carrying the BRCA genetic mutation for breast and ovarian cancer. BRCA carriers are known to be at greater risk for skin cancer, particularly uveal melanoma (skin cancer of the eye). The most aggressive form of prevention for breast and ovarian cancer among these BRCA patients is surgery (as was the choice for Angelina Jolie). But in the case of skin cancer, proactive surgery isn’t feasible. So what can be done if you have a family history of or a genetic mutation for skin cancer that puts you at greater risk? Knowing your risk factors is the first step. If you have the BRCA or the POT1 genetic mutation or have a family history of skin cancer, then you know your risk is probably high. Knowledge is power. Follow the tips provided here and be diligent to employ rigid preventions and surveillance. You are your best line of defense.
SUNSCREEN IS STILL THE BEST DEFENSE
If you’ve heard rumors that sunscreen is not effective for controlling skin cancer and planned to forgo it on your next trip to the beach, think again! Though sunscreen application wasn’t found effective at preventing basal cell carcinoma or melanoma in the short term, it does help prevent squamous cell carcinoma (another form of skin cancer). Besides, the American Academy of Dermatology still recommends year-round application of broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to all areas of the body exposed to the sun. In fact, researchers admit they simply don’t know yet whether sunscreen helps all forms of skin cancer over the long term. Basically, the jury is still out on the true effectiveness of sunscreen for preventing all types of skin cancers, but we know it works for at least one potentially deadly form. So keep applying.
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SUN-SAFE APPAREL IS ALL THE RAGE (OR IT SHOULD BE)
It’s understandable to want to shed the layers when you’re outside and the heat is on, but unless you’re trying to get your 15 minutes of vitamin D for the day, you may want to consider covering up. When combined with sunscreen application, doing just that may be one of the most effective ways to prevent your skin developing any form of cancer. The use of protective clothing (including hats with a brim all the way around and wraparound sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays) can decrease the number of moles and premalignant lesions that form on your skin. Plan ahead when you know you’ll be outside for periods longer than 15 minutes. Also, a little due diligence on your part can turn up some fun layering options that won’t cramp your style and will keep you cool as well. Fortunately, summer and poolside clothing options that block the sun’s harmful rays are becoming more commonplace, so you can look fabulous in all of your cancer-prevention brilliance. But be sure to apply sunscreen under your new summer duds to keep all forms of skin cancer at bay.
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BODY SURVEILLANCE IS KEY FOR ALL SKIN TYPES
Fair-skinned individuals who are prone to freckles or moles are generally accustomed to reporting changes to their skin’s surface (changes in shapes of moles or the appearance of new moles) to their qualified dermatologist or oncologist. But did you know the same rule applies to those with darker skin? Even though skin cancers are not as prevalent in individuals with deeper complexions, they can experience even more morbidity and fatalities from skin cancer because it may go undiagnosed for longer periods. This makes paying attention and reporting changes just as essential for people of all skin tones and types. And the surveillance should be kicked into high gear when time outside in the sun is factored in. But body surveillance can be tricky business, and serious issues can be missed. Luckily, things just got little bit easier for everyone. Though the practice of visually scanning, or “eyeballing,” a patient’s body for any signs of malignancy is still done today, there are now more precise scanning methods, such as optical coherence tomography (among others), available to patients. Professionals say with these devices they see a decreasing incidence of skin cancers, including melanoma from individuals who regularly submit to surface scans. The takeaway? Whether you are light, medium or dark-skinned, pay attention. Surveillance is key.
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EAT (AND DRINK) TO BE A CANCER-FIGHTING MACHINE
External protections such as clothing and sunscreen are well known to help prevent various forms of skin cancer. But did you know that what you eat and drink can also contribute to your skin’s ability to fight off cancer as well? New research may prove it. A recent review by the American Academy of Dermatology looked at various suggested nutrients thought to help prevent skin cancer. They found some of these nutrients to not only help prevent cancer, but to actually fight it off. Yes, the studied nutrients had clear anticancer, antimelanoma effects! That means some key ingredients will actually do battle with skin cancer for you. What are these nutrients? Scientifically speaking, any consumables containing grape seed proanthocyanidins, epigallocatechin-3-gallate, resveratrol, rosmarinic acid, lycopene and fig latex showed significant skin-cancer- and melanoma-fighting properties. Some of the best places to find these fighting nutrients follow in the next few slides. Read on!
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CANCER-FIGHTING FOOD #1 AND 2: GRAPES AND GRAPE SEED EXTRACT
Grapes and grape seed extract (the latter being the most potent) contain vital proanthocyanidins—antioxidants that destroy free radicals. Free radicals are harmful compounds in the body that damage your DNA and contribute to a host of illnesses, including cancer. The sun's harmful rays are like food to free radicals and are known to damage your DNA as well. Researchers found the highest concentration of the proanthocyanidin free-radical killers to be in the grape seed extract, but it was also found in the grapes themselves.
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CANCER-FIGHTING FOODS #3 AND 4: TEA AND CAROB
White or green tea (black tea not so much) as well as carob (widely known as a chocolate substitute) are great warriors against skin cancer. Each of these contains the highest known concentrations of epigallocatechin-3-gallate (an antioxidant that kills free radicals), and they were found to have a similar effect as some chemotherapeutic anticancer drugs. So it turns out one of the very things medicine has been utilizing to fight cancer for years can be used holistically for early prevention! The next time you’re thinking of enjoying a cup of tea, make it green or white, and maybe throw in a carob cookie while you’re at it.
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CANCER-FIGHTING FOODS #5, 6 AND 7: RED WINE, DARK CHOCOLATE AND PEANUT BUTTER
Sound like your dream-come-true snack? Well, these foods and beverages are rich in a dietary nutrient known as resveratrol, which has some serious melanoma preventive properties. But don’t add a resveratrol supplement to your shopping list: Studies show that as you age, too much resveratrol can block the benefits of exercise, causing high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Get resveratrol through your diet and your body will be well-equipped with some powerful skin-cancer-fighting nutrients.
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CANCER-FIGHTING FOODS #8 AND 9: MINT AND FIGS
Adding fresh mint (rosmarinic acid) and figs (fig latex) to your diet will further enable your body to prevent skin cancer before it ever occurs. In addition to lowering skin-cancer risk, mint is known to soothe the skin, help cure skin infections and itchiness (it has a cooling effect), and it is rumored to reduce pimples and relieve some of the symptoms of acne. In the same vein, mint oil is often used as a bug repellent (used in citronella candles), which means this little soldier goes to work for your skin in numerous ways. As for figs, well, they’re simply packed with antioxidants and free-radical killers. The riper the fig, the more fig latex, the higher the potency. Enjoy!
CANCER-FIGHTING FOODS #10+: FROM GUAVA TO TOMATO: THE LYCOPENE LIST
The list of foods rich in lycopene (another soldier nutrient shown to fight off skin cancer) is extensive, but lycopene is a carotenoid that gives many fruits and vegetables their red and orange color. Some of the foods richest in lycopene (in order of highest concentration) are fresh guava, watermelon, tomatoes, papaya, grapefruit and sweet red peppers (cooked). But don’t discount a food just because it’s not red or orange. Even cooked asparagus has a good amount of lycopene. Who would have thought that some foods would go to battle for us? “You are what you eat” takes on a whole new meaning now. Feel free to consume plenty of these nutrients and turn yourself into a skin-cancer-fighting machine all year long.
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GO AHEAD - SCRATCH THE SURFACE
We’ve heard of facial resurfacing to treat sun damage or burns, but did you know that the very act of resurfacing the skin, whether via topical creams or chemical or laser peels, may also play a role in preventing skin cancer? It’s true. You can now honestly say that you had that chemical peel in order to prevent skin cancer! In fact, research conducted found that not only was there a decrease in new skin cancer cases, but also that patients who’d had peels or resurfacing treatments took a much longer time to develop skin cancer. This means that, as we’ve long thought, skin resurfacing strengthens the skin. But we now know it strengthens it to the point of prevention. This is welcome news for everyone, but if you’re thinking of getting a peel or resurfacing treatment for cosmetic reasons, there’s an added bonus now!
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AN ASPIRIN A DAY
The fact that aspirin, ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are great tools for a myriad ailments is not new information. But now a recent study indicates that regular, as-needed use of these over-the-counter medications for various other ailments may contribute to your body’s ability to prevent or fight off melanoma. That’s welcome news. A recent study tracked the NSAID use of people with or without melanoma and found that taking these drugs — particularly aspirin — at least once a week for more than five years may have offered some protection. Those without the disease had a longer history of NSAID use than those who developed melanoma. Researchers are quick to say this should not lead people to believe these medications prevent skin cancer. The jury is still out and further research is needed, but adding a doctor-approved daily dose of aspirin certainly couldn’t hurt, particularly if you’re in a climate with lots of harmful ultraviolet rays. Add this to your other preventive measures now for possible prevention later.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Are you concerned about skin cancer? Will you be able to incorporate some of these tips into your life to make a difference? Do you either have a relative who’s suffered from skin cancer or do you yourself have the BRCA genetic mutation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and let’s keep the conversation going.
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