Skin Cancer

In North America, skin cancer (both nonmelanoma and melanoma) is the leading type of cancer, comprising 40% of all cancers. There are over 1.5 million cases of nonmelanomas diagnosed each year. The precise number is unknown because doctors are not required to report nonmelanoma skin cancers to cancer registries. This increase in skin cancer has been averaging 4% per year since 1973. You presently have a more than 2 in 100 chance of getting some form of skin cancer from the sun. If detected and treated early enough, all skin cancers can have a 100% cure rate. The sun initially oxidizes the cell membrane in the skin causing actinic keratoses lesions, which in turn can progress to a cancerous stage known as Basal cell carcinoma or Squamous cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinomas account for approximately 90% of all skin cancers. Another less treatable and more deadly form is malignant melanoma (40 – 60,000 cases a year).

Blond, fair-skinned people are at higher risk for skin cancer. Unlike many other malignant growths, basal carcinoma does not spread until it has been present for a long time. It appears as an ulcer like growth that spreads slowly destroying other tissue. In squamous cell carcinoma, the underlying skin cells are damaged, leading to the development of tumours or lumps under the skin, appearing similar to warts. Malignant melanomas are more serious and arise from the deeper pigment-producing cells in the skin. If not treated in the early stages this type of skin cancer can be fatal, spreading to the blood stream, lymphatic system and internal organs.

Recommended Action

Most experts feel that the majority of the damage done by sun exposure occurs before the age of 18, due to sun exposure between 11 am and 3 pm daily. These are the ages and times that we have to be most concerned with. Skin cancer usually doesn’t show up until a person is over 45, but this age of onset is decreasing. Five years ago most individuals were over 50 years of age before symptoms showed. Most people presently being diagnosed with skin cancer overexposed their skin to sunlight back in the 1950’s through 70’s, when tanning was considered a healthy thing to do.

The part of sunlight that causes the problem is the ultraviolet (UV) light. With the thinning of the ozone layers, we now have much higher UV exposure than we had in the 1950’s – 70’s, so we can only expect this problem to get worse in the future. There are three basic ranges of UV; UVA (the longest), UVB (medium size, which causes burning, DNA damage and immune suppression), and UVC (the shortest size, almost completely blocked by the ozone layer). Most first generation sunscreens only block the UVB, thus preventing a burn. We now know that UVA can also cause some damage related to skin cancer. In fact, by using sunscreens, now people are able to spend more time in the sun without burning. However, as a result they are exposing themselves to more of the non-burn and potentially more serious UVA light. We suggest a person use sun screen with a SPF of 15 or higher, but don’t think it will create a ‘safe tan’. SPF refers to the amount of time a person can be exposed to the sun before burning and is only specific for UVB. Theoretically, SPF 15 means you can spend 15 times as long in the sun before burning. The rating system has nothing to do with exposure for skin cancer. This system starts to fall down after 15, so SPF 30 is only a bit better than SPF 15, not twice as strong. Some of the new sunscreens or sun blocks screen both UVA and UVB. These of course are preferable. If you are exposed for extended periods of time, sunblock that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide is best as they create a complete barrier.

Eat a diet low in fat and high in antioxidants. Keep the diet mostly alkaline (see Diet Plans). Carrot juice has been very useful for this type of cancer. Other great foods are sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage), kale, turnips and citrus fruit. Examine skin regularly especially moles, doing the A-B-C-D checklist: Asymmetry (both sides and shape of moles); Border (edges should be smooth, not blurred or ragged); Colour (tan, brown, dark brown are normal; red, white, blue or black are not); Diameter (any mole larger than 1/4 inch in diameter, or a diameter that keeps increasing, is suspect).

Anti-oxidants have been shown to be the most effective supplement to prevent skin cancer. The best anti-oxidant shown to reduce the negative effect of the sun are the carotenoids and to some degree flavonoids. Beta-carotene is the most commonly found, but a mixture of carotenoids has also been found beneficial. The carotenoids, as well as other anti-oxidants like vitamin E, C and selenium (especially selenomethionine), can help prevent the first stages of oxidation, the precursor to skin cancer. We suggest that a person take at least 30,000 IU of beta-carotene, twice daily when spending more than one hour a day in the sun. Other natural ingredients that will aid in protecting the skin from the environment are echinacea, zinc, and vitamin C.

Single Herbs: Reishi, Chaparral, Astragalus, Pau d’arco, Blood Root, Red Clover, Chinese Cucumber, Green Tea, Maitake, Shiitake, Chlorella.

Combinations: Black Ointment, Reishi Extract, Mushroom blend.

Nutritional Supplements: Beta glucans, Beta Carotene, Selenium, B-complex, Vitamin C (5,000 – 20,000 mg daily; spread throughout the day), Quercetin, Coenzyme Q10, Zinc.