Tag Archives: skin cancer

If It Talks Like A Duck…

In 17th-century Netherlands, snake-oil sellers were called kwakzalvers. That’s why today we call them "quacks." Regardless of the name, they all do the same thing: sell useless and often harmful medical treatments and health advice to a defenseless public. Some of them may well believe the claims they are making, and sincerely think they’ve hit upon a remedy or a treatment approach that no one else has thought of before but that works. Others simply don’t care whether what they’re hawking does anything or not. Regardless, the results for the patient are the same—no improvement and, often, a delay in seeking or using remedies that might actually improve their health.

That is the most consistent danger of quackery. People will spend time, money, and other resources on treatments that don’t treat anything. Even if these fake treatments are harmless in themselves, the illness isn’t being treated—and may be getting worse—while the patient goes on this wild goose chase. Sometimes, however, the treatment is actively harmful. Colloidal silver turns the skin blue. "Black salve," a concoction sold to skin cancer sufferers, can be incredibly damaging, eating away at the skin it is supposed to heal. Worst of all, some hucksters convince perfectly healthy people that they need a lifestyle change to preserve their health, or suffer an ailment that has no symptoms and may well be unknown to medical science, which they need to pay the quack to cure.

There are some indicators that strongly suggest that a proposed treatment is nonsense. One is universality—a medication that treats a broad range of very different ailments may sound like a wonder drug, but the truth is that isn’t generally how drugs work. A real medication is generally specifically aimed at a particular cause or part of the body. Some quacks offer an alternative hypothesis about disease, medicine, or even anatomy, claiming it is superior to the conventional medical understanding. At the same time, many will use scientific-sounding language and other external trappings of legitimate medicine. Quacks will often claim that the medical establishment is trying to silence them or keep their discoveries secret, including by branding them quacks. The word "toxins" is a key sign, especially when it is not further elaborated upon.

Winter Risk Of Skin Cancer

Although it’s associated with summer fun in the sun, skin cancer remains a risk even in winter. Though people are more bundled up and exposing less skin to the elements—sunlight included—vacationers go to warm travel destinations, or hit the slopes where the glare from the snow contributes to skin cancer risk, and don’t necessarily think about it at all. However, just because the temperature is low doesn’t mean UV exposure isn’t high. Skin cancer comes from sunlight, not from warmth, and is a year-round threat, and all the worse when people don’t expect it.

In fact, skin cancer is one of the most common varieties of cancer to affect people in the United States, with more new cases per year than breast, prostate, colon, and lung cancers combined. The good news is it’s also among the most survivable. Because skin cancer happens on the skin, it is one of the easiest forms of cancer to catch early, when it is most easily treated. Skin cancer generally appears as an asymmetrical mole or other marking with a ragged border. The mole will be multicolored and more than a quarter inch in diameter, with the size and shape changing over time.

One in five people will develop skin cancer, but there are some simple preventative measures that can keep someone safe. Staying in the shade and avoiding sunburn as as important in winter as in summer. Sunblock on exposed areas, what few there are, may be needed even in the wintertime. The very beginning and very end of the season, when the weather may be warm enough to allow people to dress slightly lighter, are times to be especially wary.

Skiers and snowboarders should remember that UV exposure rises as much as five percent every thousand feet above sea level. Sunscreen is as important on the slopes as at the beach. Possibly more, since snow and wind can compromise its effectiveness, meaning frequent re-application is needed. As in the summer, the danger zone is in the hours from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M., possible a little earlier. Sunglasses, too, as as important in winter as in summer sun, shielding the eyes from glare.

Eczema, Silk, And Sun

It is estimated that as many as a third of all Americans suffer atopic dermatitis, or eczema, with most sufferers living in dry areas or urban centers. The chronic skin condition doesn’t often outlast childhood, but it is found in adults from time to time. Eczema is caused by an allergic reaction to something in the environment. The precise cause of this reaction is unclear, but there is a genetic component to susceptibility to dermatitis reactions. Stress is sometimes cited as a factor, but while it makes the condition worse, there is no indication that it causes eczema. Other triggers include certain foods, such as nuts and dairy products. People with eczema will have dry or scaly patches on the skin that itch and may seep fluid. In infants, these patches are often on the scalp or the cheeks, in older children and adults, they are found on the neck, wrist, or ankles, or inside the elbows or knees. Eczema in infants can be a particular problem because the painful itching can prevent the child from sleeping.

There is no cure for eczema, but there are treatments that can alleviate the symptoms—especially important for the sleepless children. One study is being undertaken to determine if silk clothing can help fight the itching. Silk is renowned for its comfort overall, and the researchers are hoping that the famous smoothness and softness of silk means that it can be comfortably worn by infants and others with especially sensitive skin. The silk garments are being tested on children in England, and are intended to supplement the topical steroids and other treatments currently used to alleviate the discomfort caused by eczema. It is hoped that the anti-microbial properties of silk will fight the condition directly rather than merely dulling the effects

Eczema isn’t all bad news, however, recent research suggests that kids with eczema are less likely to develop certain form of cancer when they get older. Eczema is caused by an overactive immune response, however, this response comes in handy when it comes to other diseases of the skin, such as skin cancer. The scaling and flaking affects cancer cells as well as ordinary skin cells, and so eczema means reduced tumor formation.

Facts About Sunburn

Sunburn means damage to your skin. The pain and discomfort is a sign that damage has occurred. The specific cause is a molecule in the skin called TRPV4, which is also associated with a common hereditary disease that affects the larynx. In the skin—in particular, the outermost epidermal layer of the skin—it responds to the UVB rays in sunlight by triggering a response the brings calcium to the surface of the skin. The calcium, in turn, comes with a chemical called endothelin, which causes pain and itching, but also draws more calcium—and more endothelin. But sunburn does more than suffuse your skin with calcium. Over time, the UV rays that cause sunburn can also lead to skin cancer.

Unfortunately the damage happens early. In fact, according to a recent study, skin cancer risk in middle age or beyond is 80 percent higher in people who had five or more sunburns between ages 15 and 20 —a large increase for what is already the most common form of cancer in the United States. Even study subjects with no family history of skin cancer were more prone to develop it themselves if they had multiple blistering sunburns as adolescents.

The good news is that while early sunburn is a risk, avoiding sunburn even later in life can still provide some measure of protection. People who are especially prone to burning—people with fair skin, people who take certain medications, anyone who drinks while or immediately before going out in the sun—should be especially cautious. That means covering up as much as is possible when going out in the summer. It means wide-brimmed hats and UV-protecting sunglasses. It means staying in the shade, including the portable shade of a parasol for people with a particular tendency to burn.

It also means sunscreen. Experts say that sunscreen doesn't provide complete protection, but it does significantly improve matters. Sunscreen should have a sun protection factor of 30 or higher. A shot-glass-full is enough to cover most adults, though people showing more skin—or people with more skin to show—may need more. Some form of sunburn protection is important even on cloudy days, and even for people who aren't planning to simply soak up rays. It should be applied 15 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours. Even waterproof sunscreen could probably stand to be reapplied after it gets wet, especially after a dip in the pool.

Treatment Options For Skin Cancer

Melanoma is one of the most survivable forms of cancer, with a ten-year survival rate of 75 percent. It’s also the most common of the three types of skin cancer, itself the most common form of cancer in the United States. An estimated 2 million people are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer each year, one in every 150 Americans. The three kinds of skin caner are squamous-cell, basal cell, and melanoma. Squamous-cell carcinoma is found the layer of cells immediately under the epidermis. The next layer is the basal cell layer, where basal cell carcinoma is found. Melanoma occurs in the innermost skin layer.

The most obvious symptoms of skin caner are associated with the mnemonic ABCDE:

  • A mole or other mark that is asymmetrical, with a different shape on each side
  • An uneven or ragged border
  • The mark has multiple colors
  • The mark is more than a quarter-inch in diameter, about the size of a pencil eraser
  • The mark is evolving, changing its size or shape from week to week.

The standard treatment for skin cancer is surgery to remove the growth, though this isn’t always possible for melanoma. Researchers recently found a treatment approach that may be effective for melanoma. Cancers such as melanoma are dependent on copper to grow and spread because of a genetic mutation. In a study using laboratory animals, administering a drug that blocks the absorption of copper caused tumors to shrink.

Getting Under Your Skin

Skin cancer patients and others may soon benefit from a non-invasive form of gene therapy. A topical treatment uses nanotechnology to deliver gene-regulation technology exactly where it’s needed.

Topical gene therapy has been in use since the 1990s, but the advance made by a Northwestern University research team is to mate it with nanotechnology to overcome some of the difficulties in using it for skin can​cer treatment. The skin, as the protector of the body, is highly resistant to letting substances through.

The team, led by dermatologist Amy S. Paller and chemist Chad Mirkin, uses specially constructed nucleic acids called small interfering RNA. The siRNA clusters around gold nanoparticles consisting of only a few atoms to form spheres about 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. The RNA is highly programmable, meaning it is relatively easy to manufacture to target a specific gene.

In the study, siRNA was engineered to bind to natural proteins the skin does let through. When it gets inside it identifies cancer cells with epidermal growth factor receptor. The nanomedication then switches the cancer cells off, leaving healthy cells alone.

“This allows us to treat a skin problem precisely where it is manifesting—on the skin,” Dr. Paller said in a release. “We can target our therapy to the drivers of disease, at a level so minute that it can distinguish mutant genes from normal genes. Risks are minimized, and side effects have not been seen to date in our human skin and mouse models.”

In addition to the common skin cancers melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma, this technique is being looked at for use in fighting psoriasis, diabetic wound healing and the rare genetic disorder epidermolytic ichthyosis, a skin disease for which no treatment is known. Future research may look at using it for wrinkles and other signs of aging.

“Many of the ways we treat disease are based on old methods and materials. Nanotechnology offers the ability to very rapidly create new structures with properties that are very different from conventional forms of matter,” Mirkin said.

Mirkin developed the technology used more than 15 years ago. While it has widespread diagnostic applications, only recently was its ability to penetrate skin realized, along with the possibility of using that ability to improve delivery of treatments.

Sunburn Safety and Salve

Summertime is a time for fun in the sun, but sunburn can mean the fun stops. Sunburn is painful because it is a sign of damage to your skin. It happens when ultraviolet light from the sun—or a tanning bed or other artificial source—burns and destroys skin tissue cells.

The best approach is to avoid sunburn in the first place. The most effective way to do this is, obviously, to stay indoors and not be exposed to sunlight, but you miss out on a lot of summer activities that way. Most people don’t need to go that far, however. What you do need to do is stay in the shade when you can, perhaps carrying a parasol if you’re particularly prone to burning.

When this isn’t feasible—for example, when being in the sun is the whole point, such as at the beach—use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. If you’re especially fair-skinned or have a family history of skin cancer, you should use something stronger. Water resistant is best even if you’re not swimming; you may get splashed or perspire it off otherwise.

Apply sunscreen to all skin that is likely to be exposed at least 20 minutes before sun exposure, and reapply it every two hours. Most people need about an ounce of sunscreen (a shot-glass full) for complete coverage, more if you’re particularly tall, particularly large, or particularly exposed.

If you do get burned, the damage is already done; all you can really do at that point is deal with the discomfort. The most important things to remember for that are cool, moist, and gentle: Take a cold bath, or apply towels soaked in cool water to the affected areas. Apply moisturizing lotion liberally, but be sure to avoid products with alcohol or benzocaine. Alcohol will only dry the skin out further—and not just when you apply it topically, but also when you drink it—while benzocaine has been linked to a possibly fatal condition. continue with moisturizer once the skin has begun to peel, and be gentle with the area. Peeling is normal; it gets rid of already damaged skin.

Don’t peel or pop blisters. This slows down healing, and popped blisters are prone to infection. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin can also help. See a doctor if you have symptoms of sun poisoning, such as dizziness, nausea, rapid heartrate, dehydration, light sensitivity or severe blisters, or if sunburn signs are accompanied by fever or last longer than a few days.

Can Liposuction Prevent Skin Cancer?

More than two million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, making it the most common form of cancer in the United States. There’s a lot of focus on prevention– sunscreen, staying out of direct sunlight. Now researchers are on the trail of another possible preventative measure.

A recent study on mice at Rutgers University in New Jersey has yielded results that might apply to humans. Surgery to remove body fat made the mice significantly less susceptible to skin cancer caused by UV radiation. That means that mice who had the surgery were able to more safely be in sunlight. The study found the mice had 75 percent less tumor activity than mice who had not had fat surgically removed.

The study grew out of research into the effects of caffeine and exercise on cancer risk. Caffeine and exercise both reduce tissue fat, though the cells themselves remain. Coffee consumption has been shown to reduce cancer risk in people, but the exact mechanism is still being investigated. This result suggests the fat-reducing properties of caffeine may be part of the explanation, though not all of it.

The result only held with mice on a high-fat diet, suggesting that even if it does work in humans, a balanced diet actually would not confer the same benefits. Mice on a low-fat diet who underwent the surgery showed no difference in risk. Researchers believe this is likely to be due to abdominal fat producing a chemical that raises the risk of cancer; after it is removed, the fat tissue replacing it doesn’t create this compound. It is known that certain types of fat, when included in the diet, have cancer-preventing properties.

Although tumor formation in mice is analogous in some ways to the process in humans, the lead researcher warns that no firm conclusions about the effects of fat removal in humans. Moreover, this does not speak to the effects of other weight loss or fat reduction techniques.

“It would be interesting to see if surgical removal of fat tissue in animals would prevent obesity-associated lethal cancers like those of the pancreas, colon and prostate,” said the scientist, Dr. Allan Conney. “Whether removal of tissue fat in humans which has certain risks would decrease the risk of life-threatening cancers in humans is not known.”

How To Wear Sunscreen

In the United States, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. An estimated 2 million people are diagnosed each year, one in every 150 Americans. Increasingly, young adults are putting themselves at risk.

Sunburn is both a predictor and a cause of skin cancer. Like tans, it represents damage to skin cells caused by UV rays. UV radiation from tanning beds is as damaging as from the sun, and the World Health Organization has classified them as a carcinogen. Even a single bad burn can double your risk of melanoma, and it may not strike until years later.

In a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of all adults between 18 and 29 said they’d had a bad sunburn in the preceding 12 months. In the previous survey, five years earlier, only 45 percent reported burning, an all-time low. Another report showed that six percent of adults had used tanning beds or other indoor tanning equipment. There seems to be no indication of why young adults are burning more frequently, particularly since the study also found a rise in the number of people who use sunblock. Experts think they’re not using enough sunblock or are failing to reapply it.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, you should look for a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation. The foundation recommends an initial coat of sunscreen 30 minutes before going out into the sun, then reapplying every two hours regardless of SPF rating, more often if you’re perspiring or getting wet.

Most people don’t use enough sunscreen. For optimum protection, you need about an ounce, but many people use less, sometimes as little as a quarter of that amount. You need sunscreen if you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time outdoors, even if you’re not going to be going to the park or the beach or anything like that, and even on cloudy days—40 percent of the sun’s UV output reaches the earth even through a total cloud cover.

Summer is a time for outdoor fun, and you don’t need to miss out on that to avoid burns and skin cancer. By picking the right sunscreen, putting on enough, and reapplying, you can stay protected without having to hide indoors.

Skin Cancer Treatment

The most common form of cancer, skin cancer, also has one of the best prognoses of any form. The five-year survival rate is more than 95 percent, if the illness is properly and promptly treated.

As with most cancers, skin cancer can be most easily and most successfully treated at its early stages. Be alert for early signs such as change in the size of a mole or spot, emergence of new spots that are asymmetrical and have ragged edges, and rough, scaly brown or dark pink lesions on the face and hands. Moles that bleed also may be cancerous.

People with fair skin or who have lifestyles that involve a great deal of sunlight should get regular skin cancer screenings even if they have no symptoms. Discovering pre-cancerous signs before cancer develops is the best way to be sure.

When cancer is discovered, the most common treatment is simple surgery. It sounds drastic, but it’s actually relatively quick, and most patients make a complete recovery in a short amount of time. Surgery is used when the cancer is on the outer layers of skin– basal or squamous cells– and small enough that it can be completely removed. It’s less effective for melanoma, or for cancers that have spread out over a large area or are affecting other organs.

Surgery doesn’t even have to be particularly involved. Very small, early-stage cancers can be dealt with by cryosurgery, or freezing. Liquid nitrogen is applied to the cancer. As it thaws, the affected skin simply comes off, leaving healthy skin behind. Laser therapy can also be used in a similar way if the cancer is small and near the surface. Another treatment, photodynamic therapy, uses light in conjunction with medication that makes the cancer cells vulnerable to it. This treatment provides a certain degree of poetic justice.

Larger or recurring cancers may require what is called Moh’s surgery. In this procedure, layers of affected skin are removed one at a time. This takes less healthy skin while enabling doctors to completely remove the disease.

Radiation and chemotherapy are common cancer treatments, and they are effective against skin cancer as well. For skin cancer, chemotherapy may be topical, applied as a creme rather than in pill form.

If you think you might have skin cancer, talk to your doctor. The doctor can do the needed tests and, if you do have skin cancer, work with you to develop a treatment program that works for you.