5 Tips to Prevent Skin Cancer

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More people are diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined. And one in five people in the U.S. will develop skin cancer by the age 70. As your body’s largest organ, it is important to protect your skin in order to minimize sun damage and reduce skin cancer risks. Avoiding excessive sun exposure, wearing protective clothing and properly using sunblock or sunscreen remain paramount to skin cancer prevention. 

Skin cancer is mainly caused by UV rays from the sun, or tanning machines. They help to generate free radicals, unstable oxygen molecules which damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to mutations and skin cancer.

A diet rich in antioxidants can help fight off free radicals, reducing damage. You might note we chose to say diet, rather than supplements. A supplement is better than nothing but evidence suggests that antioxidants from food are more effective:

Here are five things to consider to help prevent skin cancer.

  • Increase your antioxidant intake! Consuming high amounts of antioxidants can actually make your sunscreen more effective and can prevent the damage caused by UV radiation. Foods that are high in antioxidants include: green tea, cherries, red kidney beans, strawberries, broccoli, blueberries, spinach, artichokes, turmeric.
  • Vitamin D – The skin of course produces vitamin D through exposure to the sun, although over exposure is not a benefit. A few cancer resisting properties are accepted for vitamin D and safe sources include cod liver oil, salmon, or smaller amounts in dairy products.
  • Vitamin E – Proven to have the effect you want on free radicals and to help the skin act as a protective barrier. A definite case of diet being better than supplements, such as almonds, or other nuts, sunflower seeds, spinach, or soya beans.
  • Wear photoprotective clothing when you are going to be in the sun for an extended period of time. Never ever go to a tanning salon. Tanning beds cause damage to DNA which can increase your risk of developing melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.
  • Quit smoking and limit alcohol intake. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol has been shown to increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

When you plan to be in the sun it is important to choose a high-quality sunscreen. When selecting sunscreen, find a product that has an SPF of at least 15 for daily use and at least 30 if you are going to be outdoors for an extended period of time – more than 30 minutes. I prefer mineral sunscreens over chemical sunscreens as chemical sunscreens can be absorbed systemically. Mineral sunscreens include: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide offer broad spectrum protection against UV radiation and don’t absorb systemically. Chemical sunscreens include: avobenzone, oxybenzone, octisalate, octocrylene.

Make sure that you are applying enough sunscreen and are re-applying frequently. The general rule is to apply 1 teaspoon of sunscreen to each sun-exposed area (two teaspoons for larger areas such as your back, abdomen, arms and legs).

Do your own at home skin exams and make sure to have someone else look at areas that are not visible to you. If you have any moles that you are worried about you should take a picture and track any changes or growth to those moles. Make sure you get yearly skin examinations at the dermatologist.

Here are a few things to consider when you are doing your own skin exams:        

  • A: asymmetry; if you were to draw a line through any moles or lesions it should look the same on both sides
  • B: borders; borders should be smooth and round; look out for any moles that have irregular borders
  • C: color; look for moles that are different in color or darker in color from any of your other moles, especially if it seems to be changing
  • D: diameter; any lesions larger than the size of a pencil eraser, especially if they have grown in size
  • E: evolution; moles that have changed in any way in a short period of time (6 months to a year)
  • I always like to add in the “ugly duckling” sign – make sure you look out for any moles that are “ugly” or different from what most of your moles look like.

The sun is a powerful environmental risk and taking precautions to avoid the potential harmful effects are easy but need to be done regularly to ensure that your skin is protected. And knowing that what you put in your body is just as important as what you put on it.

Arianna Rodriguez is a physician at SCNM Medical Center, and Assistant Professor at the college. Her practice is focused on treating skin diseases and minor surgical procedures. She strives to help her patients make healthier food choices and is always eager to share recipes and cooking techniques. She is an Arizona native and fluent Spanish speaker. She also volunteers regularly with Naturopaths Without Borders to work with underserved populations in Rocky Point, Mexico. For more information visit Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences.

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