Yes, it’s warming up, and we’re even getting a little sunshine here in Seattle. While the sun has so many mood enhancing properties, and it prompts our bodies to create Vitamin D, which is an essential vitamin for our wellbeing, there is such a thing as too much sun. We only need about 20 minutes of sun per day to keep our cell healthy. Beyond that, we’re risking developing skin cancer.

Skin cancer rates are on the rise. They’ve continued to increase and cause more deaths every year. At today’s rates, that means one in every five of us here in the US should expect a skin cancer diagnosis in our lifetime.Both my mother and my sister have had skin cancer removed from their faces. While they both had basal cell carcinoma, that doesn’t mean they’re safe from getting the deadlier form; plus, with two family members diagnosed with skin cancer, the likelihood of me contracting it goes up.

Skin Cancer: Rising Levels Because We’re Still Not Protecting Ourselves

The rising levels are a clear indication that the message is not getting out about how to prevent skin cancer. That prompted the U.S. Surgeon General’s new “Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer” study. It urges cooperation at the national level to prevent skin cancer. It also shows that we’re still using tanning beds, and they found that teens are far less likely to use sunscreen than the teens of ten years ago.2  It’s our incessant need to be tanned to look “healthy” that’s killing us. In fact, more people contract skin cancer from tanning than cigarette smoker’s contract lung cancer from smoking3.
Get the Facts About Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer: Progress in Treatments

Fortunately, they’re making progress in treating skin cancer. But like all cancers, the earlier you find it, the better chance you have of beating it. Advanced forms of skin cancers are often incurable because the cancer has spread, or the tumors are large. That can mean disfiguring or deadly results.

Scientists identified the proteins that are critical in the role of how skin cells grow and multiply. They found that in basal cell carcinoma, the most common form and the kind my sister and mom had, that UV radiation caused damage lead to mutations in the group of proteins that are essential for cell growth. That resulted in excess signals within the proteins which caused the cells to multiply rapidly which ultimately form a cancerous tumor. While it’s rare, basal cell carcinoma can progress by invading the surrounding tissues or by spreading to other parts of the body. These cannot be treated with surgery or  radiation. Only medications can block the excessive signals that are occurring within the cancer cells in advanced cases.

Scientists also discovered a protein mutation that’s said to be responsible for 50% of the advanced cases of melanoma. It’s the deadliest type of skin cancer, and though the discovery was made in 2002, the FDA has just approved the medicines in the last few years to target this mutation. Additionally, drugs are now available to reduce the likelihood that the cancer will stop responding to treatment. More research has produced some promising drugs that activate the immune system to fight the cancer.

FDA Approval Timeline for Skin Cancer Drugs

It’s because of these discoveries and a better understanding of the disease that has led to developing several options for treating advanced skin cancer that has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Prior to 2011, it took decades and not months to create medical breakthroughs in skin cancer. It’s looking up for those with advanced skin cancer.

Skin Cancer: Change Your Habits to Avoid Developing It

But changing your habits to avoid skin cancer in the first place in the best option. First and foremost, if you’re using a tanning bed, stop. Then work to prevent sun damage by wearing a sun hat, covering up your skin outdoors, using a quality sunblock (I prefer organic sunscreens), wearing sun safe swimwear, and opting for shade during the hottest part of the day.

The goal is to avoid sunburns and meter your time in the sun so that you’re benefitting from the truly healthy rays it provides while making sure you avoid the damage and destruction it can bring.

Find out more about the real dangers of skin cancer:

  1. Robinson, JK. Sun exposure, sun protection, and vitamin D –  JAMA  2005; 294:1541-43.
  2. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer: Department of Health and Human Services (2014)  – Accessed Jan. 27, 2015
  3. Wehner M, Chren M-M, Nameth D, et al. International prevalence of indoor tanning: a systematic review and meta-analysis –  JAMA Dermatol2014; 150(4):390-400. Doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.6896.

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Woman & dermatologist photo courtesy of Getty Images