Skin Cancer

  • 24 Jul 2014
  • Reading time 5 mins
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There are two main kinds of skin cancer: basal, or squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Skin carcinoma is both common and relatively easy to treat; melanoma, by comparison, is rare and highly malignant, and represents more of a risk. Excessive exposure to strong sunlight is the main risk factor for both kinds of skin cancer. Follow the advice given for cancer in this article as well as the following specific advice below to help with prevention as well as treatment.

Protect your skin

Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or sun lamps causes both malignant melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers – especially in fair-skinned people with red or blonde hair, and those who have a lot of moles. Although UVB rays are the most damaging to our DNA, UVA rays also damage DNA through the generation of free radicals or oxidants, which effectively burn the skin. Ideally, you should limit your exposure to both, since UVA rays can weaken the body’s immune responses that are vital for dealing with damaged cells.

Be aware that not all sunscreens are equally effective, either. With many, some UV radiation still passes through to the skin barrier. The key is to both filter the harmful rays and protect the skin cells themselves with antioxidants. (Antioxidants are substances that remove or disarm potentially damaging oxidizing agents, such as UV radiation, in the body.) I am particularly impressed by the Environ products, which are rich in vitamins A and C, and their sunscreen RAD. Vitamins A and C are the nutrients that protect your skin from damage. I apply Environ’s AVST vitamin A-rich skin cream most days to give my skin optimal protection from sun damage, and I use their RAD sunscreen when exposed to strong sunlight. The sunscreen contains natural antioxidants that increase sun protection and help to neutralise free radicals before they have a chance to do damage.

Care for your skin from the inside out

During strong sunlight exposure, the risk of oxidant damage to the skin (through burning) is at its highest. To help protect your skin from the damage by oxidants it’s important to look at other lifestyle factors that are harmful. Smoking, for example, introduces oxidants into the lungs and bloodstream, and alcohol suppresses the immune system, weakening the body’s natural defences. Fried food also introduces oxidants into the body, because the high temperatures involved in frying food causes it to oxidise. To fight the oxidants you should eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, which contain antioxidants. Some of the best skin protectors are tomatoes, which contain the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene is a member of the carotenoid family of phytochemicals and is the natural pigment responsible for the deep red colour of several fruits. In addition to its antioxidant activity, lycopene has been shown to suppress the growth of tumours and protect against skin cancer. Other foods high in lycopene include pink grapefruit, watermelon, and guava. Other foods containing small amounts of lycopene include persimmon and apricots.

Levels of vitamin A and beta-carotene (known as a precursor of vitamin A) in the blood tend to be lower in people who have certain types of skin cancer. The antioxidant vitamins (which are often contained within a high-quality daily multivitamin–mineral) help to protect against skin damage, but of particular importance are vitamins A and E, and beta-carotene nutrients.

Increase plant polyphenols

Polyphenols are antioxidant phytochemicals that prevent free radical damage and protect the skin. Polyphenols are prevalent in foods such as nuts, seeds, onions, green tea, pomegranates, apples, berries, cherries and other fruits, also grape seeds, as well as vegetables and pulses such as beans and lentils. They are also found in the spice turmeric and the supplements resveratrol and silymarin (milk thistle extract).

Polyphenols have many anti-cancer actions, such as reducing inflammation, reducing oxidative stress and preventing damage to DNA. They also boost the immune system and can directly influence tumour progression. Most research has focused on green tea extract and other polyphenols, such as grape seed proanthocyanidins, which have been shown to inhibit skin-cancer cell growth. Green tea has long been suspected of possessing anti-cancer properties, and the extract, called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), has been shown to be effective at shrinking skin tumours. Although you can obtain reasonable levels of EGCG from drinking green tea, you will also be taking in a lot of caffeine to reach the desired amount, so it may be worth taking green tea extract instead; it is often included in antioxidant complexes.

Resveratrol, a potent antioxidant found in the red skin of grapes and peanuts, has also been shown to reduce skin cancer tumours and help reduce the risk of cancer from spreading. Although most research has been carried out on animals, I would certainly increase my intake of resveratrol, if it were necessary. The key feature of resveratrol is that it is activated only inside the cancer cells, which it arrests or kills. Although some resveratrol can be obtained by eating large amounts of organic fruit and vegetables, extra virgin olive oil and unfiltered juices, it is difficult to get sufficient from diet alone. The concentration of resveratrol in foods varies enormously, so to benefit from higher amounts you need to take supplements. This could be in an antioxidant formula containing resveratrol. If you have cancer, you may want a higher therapeutic dose with advice from a nutritional therapist. Other polyphenols that can retard the growth of skin cancer include the isoflavones found in soya beans.

Cautions

Some chemotherapy agents act as oxidants and, during treatment, depending on the drug you are being given, it may be advisable to avoid supplementing antioxidants. (Vitamin C in high doses acts as a pro-oxidant, so is unlikely to interfere.) Please seek the advice of your oncologist. You must not undertake an extensive nutritional strategy on your own. It is important to ensure that you get the correct guidance from a nutritional therapist.

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