Skin Cancer – How to Reduce Your Risk
Do you love the feel of the sun on your skin? If like many people you’re craving a beach holiday, you’ll be familiar with the uplifting effects of sunlight.
But sun exposure has a dark side. Skin cancer is the number one cancer in the UK and is increasing faster than any other. With many people spending more time indoors over the past year, Sun Awareness Week emphasises the importance of regularly checking your skin even if you haven’t seen much of the sun lately.
Find out how to reduce the risk of skin cancer.
What is Skin Cancer?
Healthy cells grow in an orderly way then die when they’re no longer needed. When this process goes awry, cancerous cells develop. Skin cancer occurs when skin cells multiply uncontrollably and don’t die when they should.
The majority of skin cancers are caused by ultraviolet rays from sunlight. These generate free radicals, unstable substances capable of damaging the DNA of skin cells.
Types of Skin Cancer
- Basal Cell Carcinoma
The commonest type of skin cancer, found in cells close to the skin’s surface. They often look like a shiny bump or a flat flesh-coloured lesion.
Basal cell carcinomas are relatively harmless because they rarely spread.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma
These may be hard, red nodules, or flat with a scaly surface. They again occur in the skin’s upper layers. Occasionally they spread to other parts of the body.
Melanomas develop in cells lower down in the skin. They contain the dark pigment melanin, made when skin is exposed to sun. Melanin turns skin browner and protects it from sun damage by absorbing the radiation in ultraviolet rays.
You probably have moles on your skin, areas of concentrated pigment. Moles occur when pigment-producing cells grow in clusters rather than being spread evenly. Most moles are harmless, but some can change into melanomas.
It’s important to catch melanoma early because it’s more likely to spread. If it does, it’s termed metastatic melanoma.
Check Your Skin
Experts stress the importance of checking your skin from head to toe each month for any signs of cancer. You’re looking for any change from your skin’s normal appearance.
Moles are normally evenly coloured with smooth edges, no bigger than 6mm in diameter and don’t change colour, shape or size over time. Other warning signs include spots or sores which don’t heal, a tender or itchy mole or spot, or redness, pigment or swelling spreading from a spot or mole to the surrounding skin.
When checking, have the alphabet in mind.
- Asymmetry – a mole with an irregular, rather than a round shape
- Border – may be uneven
- Colour – often a mixture of pigments rather than a uniform hue
- Diameter – usually larger than 6mm
- Evolving – the mole may change size, shape or texture, or become raised. It can itch, bleed or scab over.
The main aspect to bear in mind is to look for any mole atypical for you or one appearing where there wasn’t one before.
Reduce the risk of skin cancer with practical Ideas to Protect Your Skin
- Short is Best
To protect yourself from skin cancer, sensible advice is to stay in the shade. However, humans need some sunlight. It helps regulate your sleep/wake cycle – without exposure to the sun’s rays you’ll have a harder time sleeping.
You also need sunlight to make vitamin D. A worrying amount of the UK population are deficient in this nutrient. It’s vital for the immune system, part of your natural defence from cancer.
Scientists have calculated if you have pale skin you need around 13 minutes of midday sun exposure three times weekly on a third of your skin to make enough vitamin D. Darker skin needs longer.
But burning your skin isn’t a good idea because it puts you at risk of skin cancer – this is especially true if you had sunburn at a young age.
- Natural Sunscreens
If you’re out in the sun for any more than a short period, you need to use a sunscreen to protect you.
Sunscreens prevent sunlight damaging your skin with physical barriers reflecting the sun’s rays, or chemical filters designed to absorb the sun’s energy. It makes sense to use a sunscreen containing natural ingredients rather than harsh chemicals.
Sunscreens with zinc oxide seem to be safest because some chemical filters have been found to affect female hormone balance.
- Load up on Antioxidants
Antioxidants found in colourful plant foods prevent free radicals from damaging cells. Sun exposure triggers the production of free radicals and can deplete antioxidant reserves.
Antioxidants work together, so make sure you’re eating a variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables containing a range of these plant compounds.
Functional Medicine and Your Skin Health
Your skin is your largest organ and reflects the health of the rest of your body.
Your skin is your largest organ and reflects the health of the rest of your body. If you’d like to support the health of your skin by optimising your nutrition and choosing healthy lifestyle habits, contact me.
Or if you would like a consultation, then please book an appointment