Skin Cancer Risk Factors and revention
Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer for both women and men. The number of
confirmed cases has steadily increased over the past few decades. Knowing your risk factors,
how to identify the early stages of this disease and how to protect yourself from skin cancer is
essential for early detection and effective treatment.
There are two types of skin cancer: melanomas and keratinocyte cancers. Melanomas are less
common yet more serious than other types of skin cancer. It is important that you locate and
receive treatment for all types of this cancer to prevent the spread into surrounding tissues.
A major risk factor for skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight or tanning
beds. UV rays can penetrate the skin even when it is cloudy, cool or hazy outside. There are
some things you can do to limit your sun exposure. Many physicians recommend daily use of
sunscreen. You should seek shade when spending time outdoors and try to avoid activities
outside when the sun's rays are strongest, usually between 10am and 4 pm. Hats, sunglasses
and protective clothing protect your skin from UV exposure. Stay away from indoor tanning beds
as they have been linked to melanoma and squamous cell skin cancers.
Individuals with fair skin that freckles and burns easily are at a higher risk for this type of cancer
than those individuals with darker skin. This is because pigment or melanin in your skin provides
protection from UV radiation. If you have light-colored eyes and blond or red hair, you may be at
a higher risk as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, some other risk factors include:
Personal or family history of skin cancer
Excessive sun exposure
History of sunburns
Weakened immune system
No matter what your risk factors, it is important that you examine your skin each month. Many
skin cancers are highly treatable with early diagnosis. Look for any changes in moles or unusual
areas on your skin. Schedule an appointment with a dermatologist for a thorough skin exam
each year. These check-ups are the best way to make sure that your skin remains healthy.
If you or the dermatologist finds a spot on your skin that causes concern, he may take a biopsy
of the area. If the lab finds cancerous or pre-cancerous cells, more tests may be needed to
determine the stage, type and extent of the cancer. Once the cancer is staged, the physician will
determine which treatment options will be most effective. Most skin cancers are highly treatable
if found early. Follow up exams and tests will be needed to ensure that the cancer does not
While there is no way to avoid UV exposure completely, taking a few precautions can make a
big difference in the overall health of your skin. Be vigilant about your skin checks and contact
your physician with any concerns. With a little bit of prevention and routine checks, you may be
able to lower your risk for developing any form of skin cancer.
Protect Yourself From the Sun, Not Your
Check your sunscreen label. If the active ingredients include one or more of the chemicals listed
in this article, you need to look into a mineral based alternative.
In 1927, 12,745 physicians endorsed smoking Lucky Strike® cigarettes as a healthful activity;
by 1999 smoking-related illness had become the number one cause of death in United States.
Similarly, the rate of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has been on the rise since
the first sunscreen arrived on the market in the late 1960's. Worldwide, the greatest rise in
melanoma has been experienced in countries where chemical based sunscreens have been
While it is important to protect your skin from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation, it may be just
as important to protect yourself from the chemicals used in most sunscreens. Chemical-based
sunscreens include ingredients that absorb UV radiation from the sun. These chemicals get into
the skin and absorb UV radiation which leads to free radical release. Free radicals can damage
cells and are believed to accelerate the progression of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and
Health-related U.S. government agencies including the National Institutes of Health (NIH),
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC),
and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) all have important information about potential dangers
of these chemicals.
The good news is avoiding chemical-based sunscreens may be easier than you think. Below is
a list of some potentially dangerous sunscreen chemicals.
Oxybenzone Oxybenzone is a chemical that can be absorbed by the body and mimic or block
hormones thereby disrupting their normal functions. Oxybenzone was found in 96.8% of human
urine samples analyzed as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2008. The same study found a
lower birth weight in baby girls whose mothers were exposed to Oxybenzone during pregnancy.
Oxybenzone is a photo-carcinogen, a chemical that can potentially cause cancer when exposed
to light. Known as a powerful free radical generator, oxybenzone is used to destabilize
chemicals in a number of industrial processes. In addition Oxybenzone has been known to
trigger photo-allergic reactions. These allergic reactions are caused by exposure to UV
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an organization that specializes in environmental
research and advocacy, identified nearly 600 sunscreens sold in the U.S. that contain
Oxybenzone, including leading brand names like Hawaiian Tropic, Coppertone, and Banana
Boat, and many facial moisturizers as well.
Avobenzone Similar to Oxybenzone, Avobenzone is a chemical that absorbs UV radiation and
is easily absorbed through the skin, potentially releasing free radicals. Avobenzone has been
shown to degrade significantly in light, resulting in less UV protection over time.
Octocrylene According to recent studies, Octocrylene, causes bleaching in the algae that lives
on coral, often killing the entire structure. The UN World Trade Organization estimates 78 million
tourists visit coral reefs each year, releasing between 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen into the
water. Several marine reserves in Mexico have banned sunscreens that use oils and chemical
The little amount of data on Octinoxate noted estrogenic effects as well as disruption of the
thyroid hormone and brain signaling. Estrogenic effects can potentially increase cancers, cause
birth defects in children, and cause fertility and other developmental problems.
Homosalate is a penetration enhancer that may promote the absorption of other harmful
chemicals. Very little data exist on the effects of homosalate exposure, but preliminary data has
found it to be a possible carcinogen.
Alone, octisalate may not be harmful. However, similar to homosalate, octisalate is a
penetration enhancer and may promote the penetration of other harmful chemicals.
Although these reports are alarming, safer sunscreens do exist. Most physicians continue to
support the use of sunscreen, but now advocate using physical barrier sunscreens instead of
chemical based sunscreens. Rather than absorbing into the skin, a physical barrier sunscreen
reflects or scatters UV radiation. It's like wearing millions of tiny mirrors. Most physical barrier
sunscreens contain either zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Click on any of the sunscreen ads
located in this blog to purchase a safe and healthy sunscreen