Straight talk about skin cancer

Straight talk about skin cancer

By Chris Strub & Chris Coyne

These days, a sunny weekend trip to the lake, the beach or the park wouldn't be complete without a bottle of sunscreen.

Twenty years ago, that wasn't necessarily the case - and your skin may still be paying the price.

We're in the midst of what some doctors call a skin cancer epidemic, with three million new cases of skin cancer per year in the U.S. It's time we learn more and be more vigilant about protecting our own skin. It's also time to educate our children about the dangers of too much sun exposure.

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Everyone who's had regular exposure to UV rays is at risk. You may have had a lot more sun exposure than you even remember, and after UV exposure-- if you have had a bad sunburn--sun damage may not manifest itself for decades.

Why have cases of skin cancer increased?

There are a number of possible culprits; we'll talk about a few. First there's climate change. Our earth's ozone layer is thinning. As that happens, more of the cancer-causing Ultraviolet radiation that it once blocked get through the ozone. A warmer planet also leads stronger storms to water vapor buildup in the atmosphere that reacts with elements in the air to create chlorine, sparking a cancer-causing chemical reaction. Wear long sleeves and protective clothing-and sunglasses-whenever possible.

What if it's not always the sun? A recent study at SUNY Stony Brook concluded that healthy human skin cells react to radiation emitted by compact fluorescent light bulbs the same way they do to sunlight, by increasing cancer-causing free radicals. The same reaction did not occur after exposure to traditional incandescent bulbs, or tube fluorescent lighting. Use glass lampshades on your CFCs and don't sit closer than a foot away from their light.

Could your sunscreen be working against you? Some sunscreens contain Vitamin A, or retinol-ostensibly to slow the signs of aging on the skin. But a study by the National Toxicology Program found that Vitamin A applied in sunlight accelerated the development of skin lesions and tumors. Use a sunscreen that doesn't contain Vitamin A and take a Vitamin A supplement instead.

AK's, or actinic keratoses, are often referred to as "sun spots" and are often considered to be the first step in the development of skin cancer. The risk for them to develop into skin cancer ranges from 0.5% to 5% per year - and many people at risk have more than one AK, multiplying their risk.

Pay attention to any growth that you have that is rapidly changing, itching, painful, or bleeding on its own. Those are sure signs it's time to see a dermatologist. And don't put it off, that's one of the biggest hurdles doctors face in their fight to raise awareness about the dangers of skin cancer.