Skin Cancer – An Elusive Threat

With over a million new cases diagnosed each year in the United States, skin cancer is indeed a widespread reality. In fact, this form of cancer accounts for roughly half of all newly diagnosed cancers. Even with this fact, very few are informed about the risk factors, symptoms, and treatment of this potentially preventable and curable condition.

Like most cancers, there are two forms of skin cancer – nonmelanoma and melanoma. About 95% of all skin cancers are of the nonmelanoma type, and as cancer biology nomenclature suggests, the cancer has not metastasized. In contrast, melanoma arises from the pigmented skin cells known as melanocytes and is far more dangerous since the cancer usually metastasizes before the tumor has been noticed. In either case, cancer is cancer. Fortunately in this case, the same preventative measures can be taken to reduce one’s chances for acquiring it.Banana Boat Sunblock

So far, what amazes me is the utter ignorance when dealing with outdoor activities. In the summer time, it’s natural for people to enjoy recreational sports like swimming, tennis, biking, etc. Just keep in mind that your skin isn’t as forgiving as you wish it was. Now I’ll interject my biased opinion – the overwhelming majority of skin cancer cases can be linked to excessive exposure to UV light.

Why am I saying this? Well, quite frankly, the numbers speak for themselves. Some may argue that immunocompromised individuals or exposure to certain chemicals/radiation may increase one’s chances for getting skin cancer; however, how many public service announcements have you seen advocating the usage of sun screen? They’re not just saying that since it makes your skin look all shiny. There’s scientific evidence supporting their suggestion. The research behind UV light’s interaction with DNA, the formation of thymine dimers, the body’s innate repair response to fix damaged DNA and so on is more than enough to convince a semi-educated person about the dangers of UV light. Yet I ask, why do all of us take it for granted? “We have our youth! We’ll worry about skin cancer when we’re 50+ years of age.” Too bad for those people that even teenagers are routinely diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. And to those who have an insatiable desire to use a tanning bed on a weekly basis. What good is your beautiful, golden tan going to do when you’re unnecessarily being hospitalized later in life? Seriously, think about it.

What I advise is the following:

  1. Wear sunscreen when you’re outdoors. Not only will your skin thank you in twenty years, but you’ll prevent premature skin aging and the wonderful signs it leaves behind (ie, wrinkles).
  2. Make sure you wear enough sunscreen. A typical, small tube (roughly 5 ounces) should be used up within a weekend. An expensive, SPF 60 sunscreen is going to act more like an SPF 30 if not applied liberally.
  3. Think about investing in sun-protective clothing for activities like swimming where prolonged sun exposure becomes a problem.
  4. Roughly every few months, follow this self-checkup by Howcast. It outlines the famous “ABCD” method for diagnosing skin cancer.

Hopefully if we start to get into a good habit about this, we’ll begin to see cancer rates steadily decline over the next decade. (Source: Professor Lewis J. Kleinsmith)

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  1. Don’t forget the UV protective clothing! Surfers have used rash guard shirts for years but it’s just recently that the SPF 150+ protection these shirts provide while you’re in the water has been discovered by the rest of the beach going population.

  2. Hey Jeff. Thanks for the article! After reading it and confirming it through Google searches, I’ve seen both sides of the story. Vitamin D can be obtained in far more than one way, and it just seems impractical for an individual to sit under UV light for prolonged periods of time without any sort of protection. Perhaps it’s just a matter of wearing long clothing, so the application of any potentially harmful chemicals is eliminated. Or maybe a slightly lower SPF to still allow some Vit. D formation through the “sunlight pathway.” Anyways, thanks for the comment!

  3. According to a survey of new research by epidemiologist Marianne Berwick of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, there is no evidence that sunscreen offers any real protection against malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. “It’s not safe to rely on sunscreen,” Berwick told the press.

    A team of researchers from the University of California has found that sunscreen can do more harm than good once it soaks into the skin. The sunscreen is supposed to be applied as a layer on the skin. When it is rubbed in, it penetrates to the deeper layers and promotes formation of harmful compounds. Thus sunscreens ironically cause the same damage against which they are meant to protect. Further, the chemicals present in commercial sunscreen products have also been found to be toxic and said to actually promote some forms of cancer.

    UVB rays are responsible for creating vitamin D in our body. Sunscreens with a sun protection factor of 8 or greater will block UV rays that produce vitamin D. There is a growing body of evidence that a higher intake of vitamin D may be helpful in the prevention and treatment of cancer, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, diabetes mellitus, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases. So, sunscreen may be blocking the very thing that is keeping you healthy in the first place. Read more on my blog:

    Can Using Sunscreens Cause Cancer?


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