Spotting Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer Avoidance

Skin Cancer Avoidance

For people who have any kind of sun exposure, the skin cancer foundation recommends that you have a head to toe self examination every month. However for many people, the main reminder they have to check for skin cancer is the start of summer as they squeeze into their swimsuits again and take a look at their beach body!

Summer officially starts June 21 in the United States and in sunny climates people are already hitting the beach and increasing their exposure to the sun. Now is a great time to remind yourself about the risks of prolonged exposure to the sun and also to perform that skin cancer self examination or contact a doctor to have any suspicious spots examined.

In the United States, 3.5 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year, and many of these cases could have been prevented by taking greater precautions in the sun. For older people and baby boomers who had many years of intense sun exposure when they were younger, they need to be very vigilant now about the condition of various moles and freckles on their body. You should be monitoring the color, shape and size of those spots to detect skin cancer as early as possible.

The aggressive form of skin cancer, melanoma, can spread very quickly and metastasize to other parts of the body including the brain, bones, liver and lungs. This form of skin cancer can metastasize and kill very quickly. Careful monitoring of your skin is essential for everybody, but it’s particularly necessary if you have had regular sun exposure or a lot of exposure when you were young.

Specialists suggest that a lot of sun damage takes places under the age of 18 and that is when the risk for cumulative damage is the greatest. So even if you have a small amount of exposure as an adult, if you had sun exposure as a child you need to be very vigilant about the condition of your skin.

Research tells us that if you had sunburns as a child, your risk of getting skin cancer is doubled later in life.

Signs to look for

During every self examination you need to make a note of the each freckle, bump, mole, birthmark, sore and scab on your body. This is close to do from memory so it is recommended that you use a body map to draw out the location of these blemishes as you self examine.

You can download a skin cancer body map from the Skin Cancer Foundation. You should record the color, size, texture, opacity, asymmetry and location of each spot and then compare it to subsequent inspections.

In addition, you should also photograph yourself every month so you have an accurate image of potential skin cancers and don’t have to rely on your memory. By using photographs in conjunction with a skin cancer body map you should have a good comprehension of the state of your skin and spot changes relatively quickly. Because of the aggressiveness of Melanoma, it is essential that you spot it very quickly.

You should also be on the lookout for pain, itching or bleeding from spots on your skin, which are signs of a developing skin cancer.

Avoiding Skin Cancer

Humans love the sun, it’s a glorious feeling standing in the sun after a swim and it provides an important role in maintaining a healthy body by providing us with vitamin D.

However too much of a good thing is dangerous and sun damage is cumulative. So how can you enjoy the sun safely? Here are some quick tips..

Avoid prolonged exposure, especially between 10am-4pm

Avoid staying in the sun for too long, particularly between the hours of 10am and 4pm when the sun is it’s hottest. Go for a swim in the afternoon or morning and avoid spending many hours in the sun during these times without appropriate protection.

Don’t get burnt!

Simply put, the more damage that occurs to your skin the higher the risk of skin cancer. Don’t let you skin burn! Be aware of how much time you have spent in the sun and never let your skin get to this point. Not only are you increasing skin cancer risk when you burn but you are speeding up aging as UV does horrific damage to your skin.

Avoid tanning

Don’t go out of your way to get a tan and don’t use tanning beds. UV light is damaging your skin and while a tan might help you look good in the short term, in the long term the additional UV exposure is a cancer risk and will age you prematurely. You can always get a fake tan to achieve the look you are going for and won’t harm yourself doing it.

Use the appropriate protection

Cover up from the sun and use hats, clothes, sunglasses and sunscreen. This is especially necessary for people who are working in the sun all day – cover your skin as much as possible.

Densely woven fabrics provide the best protection and you can purchase specially made UV protection clothing which blocks most of the UV. That kind of clothing is essential for young children as minimizing their sunburn risk and limiting sun exposure helps avoid skin cancer in later years. Bright and dark colored clothing will also block more UV than white clothing, so consider your attire.

A good pair of sunglasses will also help prevent exposure and reduce the risk of cataracts and melanoma of the eye.

Use sunscreen

It has been drilled into our heads for many years now, but it is always worth remembering – a high SPF sunscreen will protect you against Ultraviolet B rays. However be aware that sunscreen is not always complete protection as many cannot protect against long wave Ultraviolet A rays which are the main cause of melanoma and sun induced skin aging. Get a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA as well as UVB.

You have to also use the sunscreen appropriately, covering your entire body, applying it before going into the sun and reapplying it when necessary. Even with sunscreen on you should avoid prolonged sun exposure.

It is also important to realize that sunscreens may not always be effective and some contain their own risks.

Be aware the sun is always present!

Even when it looks overcast or the weather is cold, be aware the sun is still present and UV rays are present. recommends that you use sunscreen every day when you are outdoors, regardless of the weather. On an overcast day you can still obtain 70% as much UV as you would with the sun out.

Be aware that your environment can change the UV risk. If you are by the water, or on the snow, or on the sand, the level of UV is increased as it is reflected back from the environment with great intensity. UV is higher at high altitudes, so if you are a skier, be aware of the greater risk.

Get regular checkups and perform monthly self examinations

Besides performing a monthly self examination, you should also get your physician to take a look at your skin and look for any suspicious marks.

Take care of yourself and be sun smart! Skin cancer can be avoided or detected early enough to save your life if you are vigilant, so look after yourself and your family.

Are Sunscreens a Cancer Risk?

Sunscreen Cancer Risk

Sunscreen Cancer Risk

The message has been clear in recent years – use sunscreen to avoid skin cancer. It seemed like common sense to follow this advice because of the thousands of people who die from skin cancer every year. The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. Melanoma, the least common form is skin cancer, is also the most aggressive form of skin cancer and can become fatal very rapidly.

Because of widespread media campaigns by public health organizations and sunscreen companies, it became commonplace to use sunscreen products when in the sun, even for as little as 20 minutes. However in recent years some debate has arisen over how effective these sunscreen products are, and if the sunscreen products themselves present a cancer risk.

Questions on the effectiveness of Sunscreen

It has been suggested that sunscreens only protect against UVB protection and not the more dangerous UVA component of the spectrum. Because people who are wearing sunscreen believe they are safe in the sun, they are inclined to spend more time in it. Because of the additional time in the sun and lack of UVA protection, it has been suggested that individuals may be putting themselves at risk of developing melanoma.

Sunscreen may be in fact effective for protecting against the more common basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, but is not effective at preventing malignant melanoma. Some studies have actually demonstrated that melanoma rates have been higher in people who used sunscreen compared to those who don’t. However you have to consider whether this has been impacted by the actual period of time spent in the sun. Also the fact that fair skinned people (who are prone to skin cancer) are more likely to be in the sunscreen users category.

Other studies suggest that because the sunscreens are blocking UVB, they are preventing the body from adapting to the level of sunlight and allowing the UVA to penetrate unchecked. When exposed to the sun the body will create a photoprotectant called melanin to stop the sun deeply penetrating and damaging the skin – that is what call a “tan”. If melanin is not generated because the UVB is blocked, the UVA can bypass the sunscreen and enter the skin more easily because it has no low levels of melanin.

Keep in mind that melanoma is responsible for around 75% of all skin cancer deaths. A number of studies on mice have found that the use of sunscreen delays or prevents the more common forms of skin cancer, but does not reduce the risk of melanoma.

Sunscreen ingredients risks

It has also been suggested that the actual ingredients of some sunscreens is a cancer risk. Studies have suggested that when rubbed into the skin, 1% and 10% is absorbed into the body. This may be of concern when you consider the fact that some sunscreens have ingredients including octyl methoxycinnamate, benzophenone, oxybenzone,and octocrylene which are potentially carcinogenic.

Of those chemicals – benzophenone, oxybenzone,and octocrylene have been demonstrated to increase the number of reactive oxygen species and free radicals when exposed to UVA. That can damage DNA and lead to cancer.

Additionally, there have been toxicity studies at Missouri S&T by Dr. Yinfa Ma and Qingbo Yang which suggest the zinc oxide in sunscreens react with sunlight in a dangerous way. They found that the zinc oxide undergoes a chemical reaction that may release unstable molecules known as free radicals. The free radicals attempt to bond with other molecules and can damage DNA as well as increase the risk of cancer. However the researchers said that despite their findings, they would suggest continuing to wear sunscreen.

Other studies have also highlighted similar concerns. A study in 1999 demonstrated that there could be pathogenic cytotoxicity and carcinogenicity risks from micronized metals like titanium or zinc oxide found in sunscreens. That is the tiny particles of metal entering your body and potentially causing cancer.

Over time as the skin absorbs more of the metal and chemicals there could also be increased risk.

Vitamin D Deficiency

There is also a risk of vitamin D deficiency from the continual use of sunscreen. Studies have found that even in countries with sunny climates, like Australia, many people are vitamin D deficient. While hotly contested, some research indicates that vitamin D might play an important role in reducing cancer mortality rates.

What to do?

The best solution is to get the right amount of sun exposure and use sunscreens which avoid the worst chemicals mentioned earlier. You should continue to use sunscreen, but don’t assume that having a sunscreen on means you can stay in the sun for hours. If the warnings about UVA and melanoma are accurate, you need to limit sun exposure to a sensible amount. You should also use UV resistant clothing in conjunction with a good sunscreen if you intend on being in the sun for a long period. The best bet is to limit sun exposure to periods of 30 minutes and not during high UV times of the day.

Reducing Skin Cancer Risk

Applying Sunscreen

Applying Sunscreen

One of the leading causes of skin cancer is the effects of the sun. The sun’s ultra-violet rays can cause skin damage and can lead to cancer after cumulative exposure. Thankfully there are numerous ways to reduce the risk of skin cancer from the sun.

In previous years we didn’t entirely understand the link between skin cancer and sun exposure but now most people understand the value of protecting themselves from harmful UV rays. The earlier you begin to protect yourself against the sun’s harmful rays the less chance you will have of getting skin cancer. Check out the below tips to protect yourself effectively.

Make sure you choose the correct sunscreen. There are many types of sunscreen on the market nowadays and it is essential to get the right one – a sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) or 15 or 30. It needs to be a full spectrum sun screen as well which guards against UVB and UVA rays.

Apply a lot of sunscreen! A lot of people don’t use enough sunscreen to adequately cover themselves. You should use sunscreen liberally and use at least half a palm full. Don’t be stingy with sunscreen!

Make sure you cover the vulnerable areas with the sunscreen. There are many vulnerable areas that people forget to use sunscreen on. The most vulnerable are the ears, the neck, the top of your feet, your hands and the backs of your legs. They may sound like unusual locations on your body but skin cancers in those areas are actually quite common.

Lips can also be injured by sun exposure so grab a lip balm with at least SPF 15. That will also prevent your childs lips from becoming chapped.

Reapply frequently! Apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure if possible so the cream has time to absorb into the skin. Then after that inital application, re-apply the sunscreen every 2 hours. Regardless of the type of sunscreen, it will need to be reapplied, including so called waterproof sunscreens. Human sweat and sea water are both quite effective at removing sunscreen also, so keep reapplying!

Buy sun protective clothing for yourself and your children. You can buy lightweight garments that reduce or prevent sun exposure. These kinds of clothes usually have a UPF rating which indicates how much they reduce the sun’s exposure. They are especially useful for children because at that young age their skin is especially vulnerable to the sun.

With these simple tips you can have fun in the sun and substantially reduce your risk of skin cancer. Remember prevention is the best cure!