The ozone layer that sits high in our atmosphere protected previous generations by filtering out most of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, which are of two types — UVA ages skin and causes wrinkles; UVB rays cause blistering and sunburn leading to skin cancer. However, over the past few decades, the ozone layer has been depleted and the filtering effect has been weakening with the result that the sun’s direct radiation is creating serious health problems that were unknown to our grandparents.
There are three types of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma. All three types of cancer occur when ultraviolet sunrays alter the genetic material of skin cells causing healthy cells to mutate into cancerous. The risk for all the skin cancers is serious. Of all the adults, currently 30 years old or older, 20 percent will get skin cancer before age 60. The risk is increasing; half of the children born today will contract skin cancer before age 60.
The first two types are the most common. Basal cell accounts for three out of four diagnoses. Squamous cell carcinoma is more aggressive and typically affects deeper levels of the skin. Fortunately, these two are the least dangerous of the three cancer types because they create cancer cells that usually remain only skin deep. Melanoma, on the other hand, is dangerous because it can spread to other parts of the body. Even worse, Melanoma is one of the most aggressive cancers, stubbornly resisting therapies.
Mitigating the Risk of Skin Cancer
Here are some things you can do to give yourself the best chance of avoiding the possibility of contracting skin cancer or catching it in time if it happens.
Avoid Direct Sunshine
A single blistering sunburn during childhood has been shown to nearly double the risk of contracting skin cancer later in life.
The most obvious remedy to being harmed by the sun is simply to stay out of direct sunshine. In particular, avoid the sun during the hours of peak intensity, which is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Note that you need to do this even on overcast days since the UV rays are blasting your skin even when the visible rays are blocked by clouds. Some of the highest cancer rates are found in Seattle because people don’t imagine they are in danger by the sun when it is clouded over.
Keep Your Skin Covered
Skin cancer rates are going down in Australia at the same time they are going up in the U.S. The reason is that Australia has gone on a nation-wide campaign of protection, called Slip-Slop-Slap. The three words are shorthand for Slip on a Shirt, Slop on Sunscreen, and Slap on a hat. Efforts are being made to promote the project in America. The American Academy of Dermatology and American Cancer Society are both using the Slip-Slop-Slap tagline to get the word out, especially to students.
“Slip on a shirt” is a big part of the formula because clothing plays an important role in protection. Any shirt or blouse made of heavy material will provide some protection. Layer up.
T-shirts under your shirt provides additional protection. Sun-protective clothing is widely available with labels displaying the SPF ratings.
Use Sunscr een Faithfully
“Slop on sunscreen” is a vital instruction for people who spend time in direct sunshine. Editors from The Readers Digest called to ask me to name the best sunscreen. My answer was, “The one you will use.” Any sunscreen with an SPF rating of more than 30 will provide adequate protection, as long as it is actually used. Some young people avoid sunscreen. Seventy-eight percent of respondents to a poll on the subject said they didn’t use it because they thought they looked prettier with a tan. Fifty percent said they weren’t patient enough to apply it over their bodies. Seventeen percent didn’t like how it felt. The objections become irrational in light of the fact that proper application of sunscreen would help prevent them from getting cancer.
“Proper application” is an issue with people who actually use sunscreen. For it to provide adequate protection, sunscreen must be applied heavily, evenly, and regularly. Make sure you apply sunscreen to every inch of exposed skin surface. I’ve seen pictures of people with terrible sunburns but only on the regions beyond the area which the sufferer obviously reached with the sunscreen. During periods of exposure to direct sunlight, you are safest if you reapply the sunscreen every two hours because you can sweat it off, wash it off when swimming, or rub it off through contact. After four hours in the sunshine, if there is any sunscreen left in an 8 ounce bottle, you either aren’t putting it on heavily enough or often enough.
Keep Your Head Covered “Slap on a hat” is the easiest of the Slip-Slop-Slap instructions. Choose one made of heavy material and preferably with a brim that encircles the hat. (Think of Crocodile Dundee, or the Toy Story Woody character.)
Don’t Delay if You See Something Strange on Your Skin
All three cancers are easily curable when detected in the first stages, so it is wise to head immediately for a dermatology clinic at the first sign of change in a wart or mole or the appearance of some blemish on the skin. Delay in starting treatments inevitably results in prolonging the healing process with the dreadful possibility of the disease becoming chronic or, in the case of melanoma, deadly.
Even though a suspicious mark on the skin might prove to be negative for cancer, it never hurts to check. It takes a specialist only a few moments to make a judgment about whether a particular condition is benign or should be examined further.
Simply setting your mind at ease should, by itself, provide sufficient justification for the minor expenditure of time and expense.
Cutting Edge Treatments
Like all branches of modern medicine, the field of Dermatology is continually discovering new information leading to breakthroughs in analysis and treatment. Practitioners like myself are continually being given techniques, devices, and products that allow us to treat skin conditions with more ease and success.
Botanical photoprotectants is one exciting avenue of research that is providing relief for people with a skin condition that causes an allergic-type reaction to sunshine, which appears no matter how much sunscreen the person will use or how heavily he/she applies it.
“Photoprotection” refers to mechanisms that assist any organism, including human beings, to cope with molecular damage caused by sunlight. Plants and animals have evolved a number of such mechanisms to guard against the stress of direct and harsh sunshine. Photoprotection of the human skin takes place through internal conversion of DNA, proteins, and melanin using a process that converts the energetic UV photons into harmless units of heat rather than generating a zoo of free radicals and other harmful chemicals such as singlet oxygen and hydroxyl radicals.
Even though organisms on earth apparently evolved photoprotective mechanisms four billion years ago, they are not effective enough in humans to counter the harmful UV rays that our diminished ozone layer now lets pass through. Researchers are exploring natural ultraviolet absorbers found in diverse organisms including mushrooms, coral, algae, and other marine life. They have created a broadly photoprotective fern-plant extract, called polypodium leucotomos, which is helpful to those people who suffer from a condition called melasma, which appears as pigmentation in sun exposed areas around the cheekbones, forehead, and side of the neck.
Melasma is a cosmetic condition that can become disfiguring rather than a health-related disease. However, there is no cure; the person’s hyper-sensitivity to sun will continue throughout their lives. We would usually treat melasma with topical medication, lasers, or chemical peels. Each of these is an external remedy in contrast to the photoprotective extract that works from the inside out. The fern extract augments sunscreen, making it more effective, but not replacing it.
Another advance that we are incorporating in our Balfour Dermatology is the SRT-100 device, which uses non-invasive radiotherapy leading to cure-rates of 95 percent. We are now also using the machine to effectively treat annoying keloid scars — providing cure rates of 93 percent, including keloids that were formerly resistant to treatment. Pre SRT-100 success rates were below 50 percent. The SRT-100 achieves its high level success in the absence of cutting, bleeding, pain, sutures, and bandages.
The device is perfectly safe for patients on blood thinners, diabetics, and people who are at-risk for infections. It is also safe for patients with pacemakers, heart disease, or transplants.
Recovery rates for patients following use of The SRT-100 is amazing. Patients can now leave my office and head right to the golf course, bowling alley, baseball diamond, or soccer field. It is effective in treating conditions in sensitive areas including eyelids, nose, ears, lips, fingers, hands, ankles, legs, and scalp. Rather than endure the temporary disfigurement that follows surgical treatments, patients concluding SRT-100 sessions do not even require a Band Aid.
Our business is growing and we’re changing up procedures affecting how we treat patients. We’ve always taken pride in our punctuality and will not permit patients to stew for long periods of time in the waiting room. Our customer satisfaction rates remain encouragingly high.
There has never been a better time to seek treatment for skin cancer! Success rates are up; discomfort levels are down. My staff and I at Balfour Dermatology will be glad to provide you with the most advanced treatments available, if the need should arise. However, continuing good skin health is preferable to being treated by the most advanced technology.
So stay out of the sun!
Or, if you have to be in the sunlight, don’t neglect to Slip, Slop, and Slap.