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01 Apr 2010
blackmores naturopath

Blackmores

Skin cancer prevention

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Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the world, and Australians are particularly at risk. The good news is that most types of skin cancer are preventable and curable. Prevention strategies and early detection are the key.

Symptoms

The general warning signs of skin cancer include:

  • Any changes in size, colour, shape, or texture of a mole or other skin growth
  • An open or inflamed skin wound that won't heal

Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, does not necessarily appear on body parts that have been exposed to the sun. It may appear as:

  • A change in an existing mole
  • A small, dark, multicoloured spot with jagged borders (either elevated or flat) that may bleed and form a scab
  • A clump of shiny, firm, dark bumps

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) may appear on sun-exposed skin as:

  • A flesh-coloured round or oval lump which may develop into an ulcer that bleeds and fails to heal
  • A smooth red spot pierced in the centre
  • A reddish, brown, or bluish-black patch of skin

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) may appear on sun-exposed skin as:

  • A firm, red bump that grows gradually and may be scaly
  • A flat spot that becomes a bleeding sore that won't heal

Causes

Up to 90% of skin cancer is caused by too much sun exposure. Normally, after sun exposure, the skin's normal repair system causes the damaged cells to stop reproducing, die and flake off the skin (this is why the skin peels after sunburn). If this mechanism is impaired, and the injured cells continue to multiply, the skin becomes more vulnerable to further damage by the sun.

BCC and SCC have been linked to chronic sun exposure, and tend to occur in areas such as the face that have been repeatedly exposed to the sun.

Even though they do not always occur on parts of the body that have been exposed to the sun, melanomas are linked to excessive sunbathing that causes your skin to be scorched and blistered. It is reported that one blistering sunburn episode during childhood can double a person's risk for developing melanoma later in life.

The people most vulnerable to melanoma are -

  • fair-skinned people
  • redheads
  • blue-eyed blondes
  • people with pigment disorders (e.g. albinos)
  • people with many freckles or moles
  • workers exposed to substances such as coal tar, radium, insecticides and other carcinogens

Fortunately, most skin cancers are detected and cured before they spread, and the majority of Australians are aware of the need to be vigilant, both about sun protection, and keeping an eye on skin changes. It is when the melanoma is undetected and spreads to other organs that it poses the greatest problem.

Diet and lifestyle

Enjoy a well-balanced diet, rich in antioxidants - eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Ensure you are eating foods with a variety of colours in order to be getting a wide range of nutrients. Include red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables and green leafy vegetables in your diet, every day.

Avoid sunburn and over-exposure to the sun, and be particularly careful to "slip, slop, slap" with your children. Avoid sun exposure during the hottest part of the day, around lunchtime - 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Wear clothes that cover your exposed body parts and offer UV protection.

Do regular self-examinations and report any suspicious looking marks or skin lesions to your healthcare professional at once. Ask your GP to also do a full body check every 6-12 months.

Assist your body's healing processes by taking an antioxidant supplement for several days after being sunburnt. If you are a regular sun-bather, consider taking an antioxidant supplement on an ongoing basis.

Important notes

Always ask your healthcare professional to check any potentially cancerous skin growths as soon as possible after you notice them, particularly if you have had skin cancer previously, as this leaves you at more risk of getting it again.

Your healthcare professional will discuss appropriate treatment with you.

Speak to your healthcare professional as soon as you notice a suspicious looking lesion or changes to a mole. In most cases of skin cancer, preventive measures can be taken to stop it spreading.

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