Skin Cancer; What Can Be Done
By Mark J Kaylor
I must admit to a certain degree of chagrin as I did some background research on this topic of skin cancer. Over and over I am confronted with headlines with both of these words: “cure” and “cancer” in them, but the frank and unfortunate reality is that these are not cures for cancer. Complicating matters is the confusion created due to the pattern where one website or article claimed this nutrient or herb was an effective remedy for skin cancer while another site or paper claimed just the opposite, its ineffectiveness against skin cancer. Given the statistics, especially the numbers on how dramatically skin cancer diagnoses have increased; you would think there might be more supportive and consistent information available to us.
It’s All the Sun’s Fault
Before the 1930s skin cancer was relatively rare. Since this time melanoma is up approximately 1800% while the number of overall skin cancer cases has doubled. On top of this is the fact that during the early part of the last century 75% of the US workforce worked outdoors while today only about 10% do. So if it is the sun’s fault how can it be that when we were outside more there were actually much fewer cases of skin cancer? Recent studies have supported this finding, that people who work outside have a much lower incidence of melanoma than do inside workers. Population studies also show an inverse relationship between UV exposure and melanoma. As confusing as it may sound it appears that sunshine may be beneficial in the prevention of melanoma while excessive sunshine is causal for the other two types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Before we leave the topic of the sun’s effects upon our skin health we need to briefly discuss sunscreens. The Environmental Working Group reported that FDA, NCI and the International Agency for Research on Cancer all concluded that, based upon present data; the use of sunscreens alone does not reduce the rate of skin cancer. It also needs to be mentioned that common chemicals found in the vast majority of mainstream sunscreens can contain four or more proven carcinogens in them. So what’s a person to do, especially someone who may be at high-risk?
It Starts With Your Plate
Whatever role the sun plays in skin cancer a growing body of evidence suggests that the increases we are seeing in incidence are at least in part do to diet, nutrition, environment, and lifestyle. Our modern lifestyle’s affect on our body has been to make it more toxic, increase systemic inflammation, degrade immune activity, increase damaging free radicals, and making it overly acidic. Here are a few simple and promising dietary suggestions:
1) Eat a plant-based diet, it needn’t be vegetarian just plant focused.
2) Eat the rainbow, by that I mean eat foods of as many colors as possible.
3) Choose whole natural foods free of artificial preservatives, flavors, and colors.
4) Cut back on the refined sugars and carbohydrates – they are immuno-suppressive.
5) Be sure to spice up your cooking with sage, rosemary, parsley, basil, and thyme, all-powerful antioxidants that may protect against the development of skin cancer.
Nature to the Rescue
The prevailing school of thought would have us believe that nature’s remedies are less “sophisticated” than pharmaceutical drugs. However, the opposite may actually be the truth; and a big reason why they may be so helpful for us in the prevention of skin cancer. Many of these natural remedies are able to work in so many different ways through a variety of mechanisms and pathways allowing them to interfere with cancer’s creation and growth. What follows is a brief look at many of the most promising skin cancer preventing allies.
EGCG and Green tea – induces apoptosis (cell death) of melanoma cells; inhibits a key cancer growth receptor and skin cancer cell proliferation; and exhibits significant potential for preventing Sun -induced skin damage. One study found that a topical application 30 minutes prior to UVA exposure reduced sunburn.
Reishi mushroom extract – the terpenoids have demonstrated an anti-melanoma effect in vitro, while in vivo research has demonstrated tumor-reducing effects. Reishi induces apoptosis (cancer cell death) and inhibits skin cancer cell proliferation. Along with these direct actions, Reishi also works holistically by supporting our body’s natural immune response, reducing inflammation, and supporting the liver’s essential detoxification processes.
Hibiscus – contains gossypin, which in lab studies killed melanoma cells, reducing tumor size in mice in 10 days. It is thought that it can shut down 2 mutated genes that are found in 70% of people with melanoma.
Cordyceps – researchers found that polysaccharides from a hot-water extract of Cordyceps inhibit a pathway that melanomas activate. The result of this inhibition was the suppression of skin cancer cell migration. Like Reishi, Cordyceps can strengthen our immune function as well, thereby supporting our natural defenses.
Milk Thistle – contains silymarin, which helps with two primary causes of skin cancer induction, decreasing toxicity related to exposure to chemical carcinogens and reducing damage as a result of solar UV radiation. Topical application inhibited several tumor promoters thereby preventing UVB -induced skin carcinogenesis.
Propolis – a resin collected by bees, it is rich in a number of flavonoids and phenols that have demonstrated anticancer actions against melanoma by way of several mechanisms, protected against UV radiation’s effects on skin cells, inhibited the pro-inflammatory COX-2 enzyme and tumor promoting processes, and shown promise for prevention as well as topically to help repair sun damage.
Mushrooms – may influence our body’s natural anti-melanoma immune response. The Coriolus mushroom when tested against several cancer cell strains, including melanoma, inhibited tumor cell proliferation up to 84%. The beta – glucan from Shiitake prolonged the lives of skin cancer patients whose cancer had returned or could not be operated on.
Quercetin – has been shown to affect skin cancer cell viability at low concentrations while inducing apoptosis at higher ones. Quercetin blocks UVB -induced oxidative stress and DNA damage. It is found in propolis, apples, grapes and onions to name a few.
Topically – there are a number of substances that exhibit promise when applied topically, as does the above Propolis; these include Eggplant extract, Myrrh oil, Frankincense oil, Tea Tree oil, and Black Raspberry Seed oil. An extract of Olive leaf when applied to skin that has been exposed to UVB radiation reduced the risk for developing skin cancer and improved skin quality.
Choose the Holistic Path
Over the last few decades we have seen an increase in the mortality rate for melanoma; increasing issues with the conventional chemotherapeutic agents, including severe side effects and the formation of multi-drug resistance; along side the concerning statistic that one in five of us would develop skin cancer. Overwhelming and frightening, yes. Thankfully nature provides us with numerous healing allies, keeping in mind that 50% or more of drugs on the market today originated from natural sources, while 70% of the anticancer agents were sourced from nature as well. The beauty and power of these natural healing allies lies in the fact that they are able to work on many levels, through multiple mechanisms, and affecting numerous pathways. These benefits can be multiplied by combining any number of the above-mentioned promising remedies. As the old saying goes “there is strength in numbers.” So maybe the most effective path for preventing and treating skin cancers lies in utilizing as many of the tools available to us. To paraphrase another saying, “the more the healthier.”