Showing posts with label melanoma. Show all posts
Showing posts with label melanoma. Show all posts

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sunscreen or Sun Exposure–Which is Worse?

Is Sunscreen Bad for You?

We all know that too much sun is certainly bad for us, if not from the pain of sunburn then from the long-term consequences of sun exposure, such as the risk of deadly melanoma skin cancer.

Recently however, new studies and data indicate that our reliance on sunscreen lotions or sprays for protection could potentially be a big mistake.  Some reports indicate that certain ingredients in modern sunscreens present health risks.  As well,the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified two major problems regarding sunscreen usage, both related to human error: improper application and over-reliance on sunscreen.

Sunscreen danger #1: Improper application

Even when we take the precaution of applying sunscreen before going out, FDA research indicates that, too often, we do not properly apply sunscreen. Common errors in sunscreen application include:
  • Not applying enough sunscreen: According to research, the amount of sunscreen we apply is often insufficient for adequate protection.
  • Not applying sunscreen evenly:  Most often, people apply sun screen lotion on themselves. But it is very difficult to apply sunscreen evenly and thoroughly even on someone else – nearly impossible to do so on ourselves, especially on the back. Missing a single spot exposes the sunbather to harmful sunrays and potential burn.
  • Inhaling sunscreen spray vapor: Many of the chemical ingredients of sunscreen are only considered safe for external use. However, the increasing popularity of sunscreen sprays increases the need for caution when applying them, avoiding contact with the mouth or nose.
  • Not reapplying sunscreen often enough:  Most sunscreens recommend reapplying after a certain amount of time. The FDA warns that there is no such thing as a truly waterproof or sweat-proof sunscreen.  Water resistant, yes. Waterproof: no. This is why the FDA recommends re-applying sunscreen every two hours, or even more often if the sunscreen labeling recommends it and if you are going in and out of the water or are perspiring significantly.  New labeling standards from the FDA require manufacturers to identify the water resistance timeframe.

Sunscreen danger #2: Over-reliance on sunscreen

In the days before there was any such thing as sunscreen lotion, people still protected themselves from sunburn by using certain common sense practices, such as covering exposed skin with clothing, limiting the amount of time spent in the sun, or avoiding sun exposure during the hottest part of the day.
Too often these days, common sense practices have been replaced by a strong reliance on the protective properties of sunscreen lotions and sunscreen sprays. But, as noted above, all it takes is one missed area of skin exposure when applying sunscreen to leave you or your child vulnerable to sunburn and its potentially long-lasting dangers.

Sunscreen danger #3: dangerous sunscreen ingredients

Some of the ingredients found in certain sunscreen formulas may be best avoided:
  • Vitamin A.  While vitamin A is generally assumed to be good for us, a recent study showed that the form of vitamin A often used in lotions, retinyl palmitate, can actually accelerate the development of skin tumors and lesions if applied to your skin in sunlight.
  • Petroleum-based fragrances. Those tropical scents that you enjoy when applying sunscreen can be problematic. For some, allergic reactions are common. For all, the petroleum-based fragrances commonly used in sunscreen have been linked to skin tumors.
  • Nanoparticles. Many sunscreen lotions with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as ingredients contain nanoparticles – microscopic particles about the same width as a human hair.  Some research indicates that nanoparticles can present health risks, depending on their size and shape – something completely unregulated today.
  • Oxybenzone. - One of the most popular ingredients in modern sunscreens, oxybenzone is a chemical known to disrupt hormones, with the risk being highest for children.

Solutions for safe sun exposure

There are many ways you can safely enjoy your time in the sun.  Recommendations from the FDA and other sources include the following:
  • Follow the recommendations in the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide to avoid potentially harmful sunscreen ingredients.
  • Use sunscreens with broad spectrum SPF values of 15 or higher regularly and as directed.
  • Limit your time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. This is when sunrays are most dangerous.
  • Cover skin exposed to the sun with clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and pants, and broad-brimmed hats. And protect the eyes with sunglasses.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, and even more often if you’re sweating or jumping in and out of the water.
  • When using spray sunscreens, avoid spraying anywhere near the mouth or nose. The safer solution: use the spray on your hands, and then use your hands to transfer the lotion carefully to the face.
Beyond the steps to protect yourself, the FDA continues to take steps to protect the public. The measures they have recently taken or are in the process of taking include the following:
  • Finalizing regulations to establish standards for testing the effectiveness of sunscreen products and require labeling that accurately reflects test results
  • Proposing a regulation to limit the maximum SPF value on sunscreen labeling to “SPF 50+” (According to FDA research, there is no advantage to going higher than SPF 50)
  • Performing a data request to have identified the relative safety and effectiveness for different kinds of sunscreen products (e.g., sprays vs. lotions, etc.)
  • Creating guidance for sunscreen manufacturers on how to test and label their products in light of these new with
  • Requiring sunscreen manufacturers to meet certain minimum standards in order to use the labeling "broad-spectrum"
Following these guidelines, you should still be able to enjoy your time in the sun.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Reduce Cancer Risk by Enriching Your Life?

Is it possible to reduce stress and also reduce your risk of getting cancer by improving the environment in which you live?  Results from this study suggests exactly that.  Previous research has already provided evidence that you can reduce your level of stress through environmental enrichment, but this more recent study seems to show a direct connection between improved environmental circumstances and the suppression of tumor growth.

Cute mouse on keyboard

Study results: Suppressed tumor growth via environmental enrichment

The newer study, Cao et al. (2010), discovered that, by stimulating the hypothalamus, tumor growth in mice slowed and survival rate improved. Identifying the biological pathways that affect the growth of disease in the body is a significant scientific advancement, since the study was the first to locate the means by which a more engaging physical or social environment can influence how much and how fast tumors grow in the body.

This report supports the findings of earlier studies showing that rats living  in a more “complex” (interesting/varied) home environment were less anxious, more curious, and more quickly conquered mazes.  From the earlier studies scientists had a general idea that the places in which we live and work could positively influence our mood, increase our health, activity interest, and even our performance at tasks.  Why that happened was less clear until this more recent study. 

To test the breadth of influence that environment had on disease, the scientists in this study used mice that had both melanoma and colon cancer.  The results with either type of tumor were similar; both groups showed tumor suppression and survival as a result of the enhanced living environment.

Rats in the control group – the ones left in the ordinary lab environment – did not do as well.  But the mice stimulated by a more complex living environment experienced significant body changes:
  • Levels of BDNF – short for Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor – an expression of the gene encoding  in the brain’s hypothalamus.
  • Plasma levels of the adipokine leptin.
The study authors used analysis techniques that directly linked the changes in leptin levels to changes tumor growth, concluding that a more complex physical and social  life boosts hypothalamic BDNF, ultimately decreasing tumor growth and progression.

Friends at a cafe

How this study relates to humans and their environments

Yes, a bored rat or mouse will be more anxious and more likely to succumb to tumor growth.  But you’re not a rat, and your daily tasks rarely require you to work your way through a literal maze.  That does not mean that the study conclusions do not apply to your own life.   While these studies were not done on humans, scientists nonetheless suspect that our hypothalamus works the same way.  Consequently, changing your home or work situation in a way that is more positive and stimulating could result in similar benefits. 

You can test this theory, and probably have.  Have you ever noticed that, after leaving a highly stressful living environment or job for one that is less stressful or more enjoyable and stimulating, your overall enjoyment of life improves?  Or that, after switching to a new and better job, you find that your health and sense of well-being gets a boost?  If so, then you can see how your lifestyle/environment may be causing brain changes that may be influencing your physical health and mood.  That environment change, which influences your BDNF levels, could similarly change chemical levels in your body, resulting in suppressed tumor growth.

Even if we cannot yet conclude 100 percent that social circumstances influence human health to the extent that tumor growth can be suppressed and cancer survival rate improved, putting yourself in a more complex, stimulating environment can surely be physically and mentally beneficial, as earlier studies have shown:
  • A stimulating social network is better for you than a socially isolated environment, as shown in a study in which rats experienced increased mammary tumors.
  • Chronic stress that you cannot control increases tumor progression, according to this similar study.
It appears therefore that enriching your life with physical and social complexity and positive stimulation is more likely to restrain tumor growth than living in social isolation.  Scientists are still reluctant to make the direct connection since they have not yet identified the molecular mediators behind this.  It may therefore take some time before we see a merging of neuroscience and oncology that affects cancer treatment. 

Office worker having fun at work

That said, studies have already shown that depression harms cancer patients’ survival rate, and real-world results from successful psychotherapy have shown that patients become physically or socially more engaged in life – experientially similar to the environmental enrichment that mice in the study were experiencing.

Whether or not the hypothalamic BDNF triggers hormonal events that regulate tumor progression, as the study scientists believe, stimulating your environment and participating socially in life is a good gamble to take.  It’s certainly has less risk than trying to improve your health with an untested drug; the only known side effects of enhancing your environment are all positive.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Monday, July 29, 2013

UV Safety Month

Ah, the sun. While it’s one of the sweetest aspects of summer, it can be deadly. More specifically, ultraviolet radiation, also known as UV rays, that come directly from the sun are responsible for causing skin cancer. Named UV Safety Month, July is one of the months when UV rays can be most intense and damaging. But, sun lovers, no need to despair. Preventing sun damage and skin cancer is easy and doesn't have to put a damper on your summer activities and fun!

Sunscreen for UV Safety Month

What are UV rays?

Ultraviolet rays, the radiation that comes directly from exposure to sunlight, are the most common cause of skin damage. By damaging the DNA in skin’s cells, UV rays are responsible for everything from a sunburn and skin spots to wrinkles and skin cancer. While sunlight is the main source of these damaging rays, tanning lamps and beds are culprits, as well.

Ultraviolet rays have three wavelengths—UVA, UVB and UVC. UVA and UVB rays are the ones of most concern. UVA rays are linked to wrinkles and some cancers. But, UVB rays are the main cause of sunburns and most skin cancers. Check out the American Cancer Society’s website, for more information.

What do I need to know about skin cancer?

By far, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, accounting for 75% of all diagnoses, according to Most importantly, there is a direct link to UV rays and skin cancer.  Although a rising concern, skin cancer can be treated in most cases.

The two major types of skin cancer are melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma, an aggressive, life-threatening form of cancer, is readily detectable and usually curable, if treated early. This accounts for the importance of prevention and early detection. Although it can start with a heavily pigmented tissue such as a mole or birthmark, melanoma can occur in a normally pigmented skin, too. While melanoma most commonly appears in the extremities, chest and back, surprisingly, it can arise in the soles of feet, under fingernails or toenails, in the mucus or lining of body cavities and even in the eyes.

The second type of skin cancer, non-melanoma, usually appears in the form of basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma. This type of skin cancer progresses slowly.

Covered up at the beach

How to prevent skin cancer:

  • Don’t Sweat It: Always wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Ensure it offers both UVA and UVB protection. Apply 30 minutes prior to sun exposure and after swimming and swimming. Use at least a handful and don’t forget lips, ears, hands, feet (especially tops!) and the back of neck.
  • Cover Up: Wear loose fitting clothing that covers the body. Darker colors offer more protection than white for light colors. Protect eyes by wearing sunglasses that block 99-100% of both UVA and UVB rays. Hats with wide brims are helpful, too.
  • Get Shady: Seek protection from umbrellas, trees and other forms of cover. Limit exposure to direct sun, especially during the hours of 10am and 4pm when the sun is strongest. 
  • Don’t Fake It: Never use tanning beds or lamps.
  • Check It Out: Pay close attention to any changes in your skin. Get moles, spots and growths checked out by a physician. 

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer