Cancer : Natural Protection from Skin Cancer

We all want to enjoy the summer sun while it lasts, but like most good things, it's important to enjoy it in moderation. Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer, but we can reduce our risk by taking a few easy steps toward prevention.

What Is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer, or the abnormal growth of skin cells, most often develops on skin that has been exposed to the sun. However, it can also occur on areas of the skin that aren't ordinarily exposed to sunlight.

There are three major types of skin cancer:
  • Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of cancer in the US. Basal cell cancer almost always grows slowly and starts in the epidermis, or the top layer of skin. It may appear as a waxy bump or a flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma is also common and may occur on damaged or undamaged skin. A flat lesion with a scaly surface or a firm, red nodule may be signs of this type of cancer.
  • Melanoma is rare but highly malignant. It's the most dangerous form of skin cancer and the leading cause of death from skin disease. Melanoma can appear as a large brown spot with darker speckles, a mole that changes in color or size, a small lesion with an irregular border, or a dark lesion on your palms, soles, fingertips, or toes.
Skin cancer develops primarily on areas of sun-exposed skin, such as the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, hands, and legs. It can also develop on the palms, fingernails or toenails, and the genital area. People of all skin tones are at risk, including those with darker complexions.

Be Sensible About the Sun

We all need some exposure to sunlight for good health -- sunlight is essential for producing vitamin D, which actually protects against some forms of cancer and is critical for overall well-being. But it's important to be sensible about sun exposure. Sun protection is the first and best line of defense against skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and about 86 percent of melanomas are associated with exposure to ultra-violet (UV) radiation from the sun.

In addition to applying one ounce of sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day, the Skin Cancer Foundation offers the following sun-safety tips:
  • Seek the shade, especially between 10am and 4pm when the sun's rays are strongest.
  • Do not burn, and never use UV tanning beds.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a hat and sunglasses.
  • Examine your skin from head to toe every month, and see your physician every year for a professional skin exam.
Protection from Within

The risk of oxidative damage to the skin is highest during strong sunlight exposure. To help protect the skin from damage, it's important to eat a diet rich in brightly colored fruits and vegetables, which are high in antioxidants.

Vitamins A and C help protect the skin from damage, as does vitamin E. A high-quality multivitamin supplement or multiple antioxidant formula will contain a variety of skin-protective antioxidants.

Some of the best skin protectors are tomatoes, which contain the antioxidant lycopene. In addition to helping to prevent oxidative damage, lycopene has been found to suppress the growth of tumors and protect against skin cancer. Watermelon, pink grapefruit, and guava are also good sources of lycopene.

Research finds that apigenin, a flavonoid found in broccoli, celery, onions, tomatoes, apples, cherries, and grapes, may also help protect the skin from sun-related damage.

Resveratrol, a potent antioxidant found in the skin of red grapes and peanuts, has also been shown to reduce skin cancer tumors and reduce the risk of cancer spreading. Resveratrol's anti-inflammatory properties help prevent certain enzymes from forming that trigger tumor development.

Studies suggest that a wide variety of foods, including fish, carrots, chard, pumpkin, and cabbage offer skin-protective benefits. Along with a daily multivitamin and sun protection, a nutrient-packed diet can go a long way in helping to prevent skin cancer.
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