Skin Cancer



Skin cancer is a disease where abnormal malignant cells are found in the skin. There are multiple forms of skin cancer, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and others, with melanoma being the most dangerous.

 
  • Overview
  • Action Plan
  • Ask The Doctor
  • Related Info
  • Success Stories

Overview


Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., reaching approximately 81,000 new cases per year. It is estimated that one out of five persons in the U.S. will get the diagnosis of skin cancer at least once in their lifetime (most of them non-melanoma types).1 Skin cancers can be identified by looking for common identifiers seen in skin cancers, such as skin spots that have:

  • Asymmetrical sides
  • Uneven borders
  • Multiple colors/shades
  • Larger than ¼ inch (6 mm) diameter
  • Changing shape, color or size
  • New or chronic symptoms of bleeding, itching or crusting

Physical examination by your doctor and usually biopsy is required to be certain of the diagnosis.

The most commonly talked about risk factor for skin cancer is, of course, excessive sun exposure and skin burns, but what is not spoken about enough is the influence of certain foods and nutrients and the risk of developing skin cancer. Observational studies have shown that those who eat foods rich in carotenoids, colorful food pigment nutrients found in various colorful fruits and vegetables (particularly green leafy vegetables), have a reduced risk of developing skin cancer (but not in those who supplement with carotenoids, interestingly),2 and high intakes of meat and fat are associated with an increased risk of skin cancer.3 It is much more effective to implement both the internal (dietary) and the external protection (sun screen) strategies together to lower skin cancer risk.

 
References
  1. Stern RS. Prevalence of a history of skin cancer in 2007: results of an incidence-based model. Arch Dermatol 2010, 146:279-282.
  2. Millen AE, Tucker MA, Hartge P, et al. Diet and melanoma in a case-control study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2004, 13:1042-1051.
  3. Ibiebele TI, van der Pols JC, Hughes MC, et al. Dietary pattern in association with squamous cell carcinoma of the skin: a prospective study. Am J Clin Nutr 2007, 85:1401-1408.

Action Plan


Diet

  • Many plant foods have been found to contain cancer-fighting nutrients which can be eaten regularly for prevention of skin cancers. In general, colorful fruits and vegetables are protective as they contain carotenoids, which are protective of cancer. Of the specific foods studied, the following have shown the most convincing evidence for general cancer protection.
    • Seeds—Seeds are high in fiber and have anti-inflammatory properties, which lower risk of cancer.
    • Green vegetables, particularly cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, kale, cabbage, and collards)—Cruciferous vegetables contain an assortment of compounds that protect against skin cancer.
    • Garlic and onions—Similar to cruciferous vegetables, garlic and onions have special sulfur-containing compounds that help fight cancer.
    • Legumes (beans, lentils)—Eating beans and lentils, which are high in fiber and other protective nutrients has been shown to be protective of skin cancer.
    • Mushrooms—Mushrooms are helpful at reducing cancer risk via multiple compounds that interfere with cancer initiation, proliferation, and migration.
    • Berries—Eating berries (strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, blueberries, etc.) has been shown to help fight cancer, likely related to their high flavonoid content.
  • Tip: Onion family and cruciferous family vegetables are best eaten raw and chewed very well, or at least chopped finely or blended prior to cooking in order to provide the strongest cancer protection.
  • Reducing foods that are associated with higher cancer risk, such as processed foods and animal products such as meats, is also an important strategy in reducing skin cancer risk.

Should we avoid the sun?

  • Excessive sun exposure and burning increases skin cancer risk. Plus, most sunscreens can increase cancer by enabling people to remain too long in the sun without visible burning and harmful chemicals can enter the body. Low Vitamin D is also associated with increased mortality, including from cancer.1
  • Avoid prolonged sun exposure, especially during 10:00 and 3:00 when the sun is at its peak.
  • When in the sun, use sun protection, such as clothing and hats, and use a safe physical sun block (without nanoparticles), such as those with only titanium dioxide or zinc oxide in them. Especially protect your nose, cheekbones, and around the eyes.
  • It is okay to get limited sun exposure for some of your vitamin D and other benefits such as improved mood, but because of individual needs, climate, and indoor work, most people find that they need to supplement with extra vitamin D in order to reach an optimal level in their bodies (blood test needed).

Screening

Periodic skin examination to identify suspicious skin conditions is still important.

 
References
  1. Schottker B, Jorde R, Peasey A, et al. Vitamin D and mortality: meta-analysis of individual participant data from a large consortium of cohort studies from Europe and the United States. BMJ 2014, 348:g3656.

Ask The Doctor


The following are sample questions from the Ask the Doctor Community Platinum and higher members can post their health questions directly to Dr. Fuhrman. (All members can browse questions and answers.)

Q.

Is there a link between Nutritarian eating and healing skin melanomas or preventing more?

A.

Of course. Melanoma is powerfully related to diet and a major cause is lack of protective antioxidants in the skin, so, this program is essential for recovery after excision as well as future prevention. Of course, sun protection without using chemical sunscreens is also important. Chemical sunscreens may increase the risk of developing melanoma, so look into the sunscreen options we make available here.

 
Q.

Do you think basal cell skin cancer is related to nutrition or purely caused by the sun? I have been diagnosed with basal cell cancer on my upper lip line and just wonder how this could happen to me, as I have been following a Nutritarian diet for the past 3 years or so and before that I followed a plant based mostly vegetarian diet. I am scheduled to have the MOHS surgery and am so worried what I may look like afterwards. I just keep thinking I must have done something wrong in the diet area to get this.

A.

Sorry to hear about your skin cancer. Cancers occur from damage to cells that began 40 60 years ago. A cancer is many, many years in the making before it appears. Certainly burning the skin could be the initiating event and then nutrition does play a role, but sometimes it is hard to know exactly what went wrong to initiate the problem. But, the longer you are eating this way and maintaining excellent nutrient levels and the earlier in life you fix things, the lower and lower your risk will be.

Nevertheless, looking back and trying to align causation is not always the best exercise. I hope the surgery goes well, and they can make you look as good as you do now. It is amazing what a great plastic surgeon can do these days.

 
Q.

Since healthy people have carotenemia, a slightly orange hue to their skin, does this correlate and/or cause a decrease in skin cancer?

A.

Absolutely, a Nutritarian diet colors the skin with protective phytochemicals. The carotene coloration parallels the heightened concentration of other important phytonutrients, so the real protection comes from the synergistic effects of all the healthy foods, which is not the same as taking carotene from a supplement.

Eating vegetables colors the skin and decreases risk of skin cancer.

 
Q.

My mom has had many cases of basal cell carcinoma that have been removed. I just had an irregular mole removed that I’m waiting to hear the results on, so, needless to say, skin cancer has been on my mind. I have been making the case for a Nutritarian lifestyle with her for years but was wondering if there are any specific things that can be done to decrease the risk of getting skin cancer.

A.

We do know about the link between high levels of exposure to UV rays (sunlight) and risk of skin cancers, so it is still important to minimize this exposure, but there are significant chemo-protective effects of plant food nutrients, such as carotenoids and flavonoids, that have been identified in research studies. The Nutritarian diet is ideally designed to decrease the risk of cancers, including skin cancers. The general advice for preventing cancer applies here: eat more cruciferous greens, onions, garlic, leeks, all type of mushrooms (cooked) and a variety of colorful fruits and other vegetables (high amounts of flavonoids) every single day. If you make this effort it will translate into decreased risk over the years.

 
Q.

I’ve had at least 15 skin cancers, likely from a childhood in the sun. I’m careful these days and use sun block, but I was wondering if your Immunotect supplement might help? I already follow a Nutritarian diet and am using your Woman’s Formula, LDL Protect, and DHA/EPA Purity.

A.

The mushroom extracts in Immunotect have skin cancer benefits, however, heed my advice on sunscreens, because most commercial sunscreens do not protect melanocytes from damage and can give a false sense of protection, increasing risk of melanoma. Read more about the non-chemical sunscreens, without nanoparticles that we make available here.