Skin Cancer: A New Approach In Australia
The Australian Government has just released a new Sun Safe Campaign, entitled “Pretty Shady”, aimed at young Australians – in order to reduce skin cancer deaths in the country.
They employed marketing company, Soap Creative, to “engage young Australians with a rich mix of video and social content, PR driven by our collaborators, plus cool free stuff. It’s an innovative approach that we’re confident that will, over time, change young Australians’ behaviour in the sun.”
I’m not convinced.
Once again, it seems to me, we’re barking up the wrong tree…
An initiative of the Cancer Institute NSW, this campaign once again fails (like many other campaigns, such as Movember and October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month) to address the real issues. Instead we continue to focus on symptoms.
The campaign highlights that Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. It’s the most common cancer affecting young Australians and thousands are dying each year.
The Slip, Slop, Slap campaign, launched by Cancer Council Australia in 1980, saw Sid the seagull, wearing board shorts, t-shirt and a hat, tap-dance his way across our TV screens singing a catchy jingle to remind us of three easy ways of protecting against skin cancer. This campaign is considered one of the most successful health campaigns in Australia’s history.
The Slip, Slop, Slap campaign was introduced in 1980, and since 1982, skin cancer rates have continued to sky rocket.
According to the Cancer Council website:
Over the past decades, the incidence of skin cancer has risen in Australia. From 1982 to 2007 melanoma diagnoses increased by around 50%. From 1998 to 2007, GP consultations to treat non-melanoma skin cancer increased by 14%, to reach 950,000 visits each year.
If this campaign was successful, wouldn’t skin cancer rates have declined?
To me, it’s clear that whatever we’re doing is NOT successful – otherwise rates would be decreasing. Could there be other pieces of the puzzle we’re not addressing that could be causing skin cancer?
What is Skin Cancer?
According to the Mayo Clinic, skin cancer occurs when mutations occur in the DNA of skin cells; which cause the cells to grow out of control and form a mass of cancer cells.
The epidermis (top layer of our skin) contains three main types of cells:
- Squamous cells lie just below the outer surface and function as the skin’s inner lining.
- Basal cells, which produce new skin cells, sit beneath the squamous cells.
- Melanocytes — which produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its normal color — are located in the lower part of your epidermis. Melanocytes produce more melanin when you’re in the sun to help protect the deeper layers of your skin.
The type of cell that becomes mutated determines which type of skin cancer you’ll have.
So what causes our cells to mutate? Government and industry will have you think that the Sun is the enemy in this regard. But there is much evidence to support otherwise. Yes, it is widely known that sunburn and skin damage raises the risk of skin cancers, however, mutations of our cells can be caused by many other factors, which our government education campaigns fail to address. Furthermore, some of our skin cancer authorities promote products that may actually contribute to causing skin cancer. Go figure…
There is much evidence to suggest that chemicals, oils, trans fatty acids, low vitamin D levels and processed sugars contribute to skin cancer.
Processed Oils and Trans Fatty Acids
Cancers take an average of 20-30 years to develop within the body – they don’t simply appear straight away. Considering that our skin cancer epidemic began in the 1950′s (20-30 years after processed oils began being promoted to the masses; after availability of butter became scarce during the depression), there is a correlation that must be looked at. (Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill, by Udo Erasmus is a great book to read on this subject.)
When processed oils are exposed to heat, light and oxygen, they easily turn rancid, developing free radicals that damage our cells by weakening the cell wall and mutating our DNA. Ironically, most of our tanning lotions and sunscreens also contain trans-fatty acids and chemicals which cause cell mutation. When we expose such mutated cells to sunlight, it is no wonder we find ourselves with the skin cancer rates we have today.
Vitamin D and Skin Cancer
Another issue we have to contend with is the fact that wearing sunscreen blocks the body’s ability to produce vitamin D by up to 99.9%. Adequate vitamin D levels are essential to:
- Support your cardiovascular health
- Promote optimal cholesterol levels
- Enhance your muscle strength
- Help produce optimal blood pressure levels
- Help maintain a healthy immune system
- Support healthy kidney function
- Promote healthy teeth
- Help keep your bones strong and healthy
Scientists have identified nearly 3,000 genes that are influenced by vitamin D levels, and vitamin D receptors have been found throughout the entire human body. Adequate vitamin D levels are essential for great health. Chronic sun exposure is actually associated with a reduced risk of many types of cancer.
Safe sunlight exposure has been shown to protect against as many as sixteen different types of cancer, including breast, colon, endometrial, esophageal, ovarian, bladder, gallbladder, gastric, pancreatic, prostate, rectal, and renal cancers, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Researchers are now taking another look at the health benefits of sunshine, over and beyond vitamin D. For example, according to one 2012 study:
“The number of studies reporting on the association between sunlight exposure, vitamin D and cancer risk is steadily increasing. We reviewed all published case-control and cohort studies concerning colorectal, prostate, breast cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) and both sunlight and vitamin D to update our previous review and to verify if the epidemiological evidence is in line with the hypothesis that the possible preventive effect of sunlight on cancer might be mediated not only by vitamin D but also by other pathways.
We found that almost all epidemiological studies suggest that chronic (not intermittent) sun exposure is associated with a reduced risk of colorectal, breast, prostate cancer and NHL. In colorectal and to a lesser degree in breast cancer vitamin D levels were found to be inversely associated with cancer risk. In prostate cancer and NHL, however, no associations were found…
[I]t is concluded that the evidence that sunlight is a protective factor for colorectal, prostate, breast cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is still accumulating. The same conclusion can be drawn concerning high vitamin D levels and the risk of colorectal cancer and possibly breast cancer. Particularly in prostate cancer and NHL other sunlight potentiated and vitamin D independent pathways, such as modulation of the immune system and the circadian rhythm, and the degradation of folic acid might play a role in reduced cancer risk as well.”
The best way to get vitamin D is direct from the Sun, because as soon as the sun’s ultraviolet rays strike your skin, your body is programmed to produce its own natural vitamin D, calciferol.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that sunburn is a good thing – this is what damages our skin. Instead, regular sun exposure is the key. According to Dr Mercola, studies revealed that people who spend more time outdoors without getting sunburn actually decrease their risk of developing melanoma.
Chemical Warfare – Free Radical Central
Another piece of the puzzle is our propensity for using chemical sunscreens that are actually more toxic than they’re worth. Questionable chemicals are included in many of our popular sunscreens, including ones recommended by our top cancer watchdogs.
Man made chemicals such as Octyl Methoxycinnamate have been found to kill mouse cells even at low doses, and increase in toxicity when exposed to sunshine. Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, has also demonstrated toxic properties. Both are found in this sunscreen recommended by the Cancer Council.
Studies also illustrate that we absorb up to 85% of what we put on our skin. These chemicals end up circulating in our blood stream. What do they do while in our blood? Cause havoc.
Other than ideal.
These chemicals are commonly found in sunscreens, some of which are capable of generating massive free radical damage (Cell mutation…) Or, as we’ve previously discussed… Cancer.
- Para amino benzoic acid
- Octyl salicyclate
- Padimate O
- Menthyl anthranilate
- Trolamine salicyclate
UV radiation and Skin Cancer
So far, the government has spent millions of dollars on Sun Safe campaigns, these include the Slip, Slop, Slap campaign, graphic television adverts showing skin cancer surgery and unfortunate skin cancer victims. However, all of these campaigns focus on the same thing – limiting sun exposure only. They do not address any of the other factors that contribute to skin cancers.
They also do not take into account the fact that other countries with minimal UV radiation levels, such as Iceland, Denmark and Sweden, have extremely high rates of melanoma:
As much as the government and skin cancer councils will tell you to simply purchase their sunscreen, wear sunglasses, or simply avoid the Sun altogether, I have a different recommendation. Though sunburn (skin damage) is known to be a factor in causing skin cancer, there must be other factors that cause it. Taking this into account, there must also be other steps we can take to ensure we actively protect ourselves.
How to protect yourself?
There are many foods and nutrients that boost your skin’s antioxidant protection against UV radiation. Free radical scavengers (antioxidants) help clean up any unsavoury activity within the body’s cells – to ensure you’re protected inside and out.
Regularly including foods from the following list from Dr Frank Lipman will ensure you keep your skin healthy, prevent premature, sun related ageing and protect against UV radiation:
- Cacao (dark chocolate): contains 4 times as much phenols and catechins as tea. These antioxidants protect our skin from sunburn and skin cancer. Milk should not be added to the chocolate as it interferes with the absorption of its antioxidants. Recommended dose: 55g of dark chocolate daily.
- Green and black teas: rich in polyphenols. Polyphenols are one of the most powerful botanical antioxidants known today. They offer unrivalled action against free radical exposure which is responsible for 80% of skin aging and can boost your skin`s antioxidant protection from the inside out. According to a study, drinking two or more cups of either black or green tea reduces the risk of developing squamous cell skin cancer by 30%.
- Micro-algae: like chlorella and spirulina, contain a carotenoid called Astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is, perhaps, the most powerful ever studied. It is 550 times more powerful than Vitamin E, and it has been shown to protect the skin and eyes against Ultraviolet radiation.
- Carotenoids: are antioxidants which reduce the negative effects of UVB radiation. Green leafy vegetables are rich in oxygenated carotenoid compounds known as xanthophylls. Carotenes are unoxygenated carotenoid compounds which provide pigment to fruits and vegetables. This pigment is used by plants as sunscreen and can activate melanin. Foods containing high concentrations of carotenes are: apricots, papaya, mango, carrots, sweet potatoes and beets.
- Lycopene: is a red carotenoid which protects the skin against sunburn and skin cancer. It is at least twice as effective an antioxidant as beta carotene to block UV light (has an SPF of about 3). Foods high in lycopene include watermelon, tomatoes, papaya, pink guava, capsicum and pink grapefruit. Watermelon is especially rich in lycopene, it contains 40% more lycopene than tomatoes.
- Pomegranates: contain powerful polyphenol compounds such as catechins and anthocyanins which strengthen the skin`s upper layers, thus increasing its resistance to harmful UV rays.
- Tocotrienols: are a group of compunds which belong to the Vitamin E family. They are 30-60 more powerful than tocopherols thus, they neutralise free radical activity at a faster rate. Tocotrienols are capable of reducing/absorbing penetration of UV radiation. Barley, rye, oats, annatto oil, rice bran oil and palm oil are natural, rich sources of tocotrienols.
- Vitamin C: prevents premature aging and skin cancer by warding off free radicals. The best natural sources of Vitamin C are acerola cherry, rose hip, berries, guava, kiwi, papaya and all citrus fruits.
- Vitamin D: it protects against many types of cancer, including skin cancer. Supplementation is in order for people who live in areas with long winters and/or people who do not take sunbaths.
- Broccoli: has anti-cancerours effects and is rich in an antioxidant called sulphoraphane. A research showed that sulphoraphane helps body cells to protect themselves against the ravages of UV radiation .
- Green leafy vegetables: according to a study spinach, kale and swiss chard may reduce risk of squamous cell skin cancer by 50 percent
- Omega 3 fatty acids: can reduce inflammation, protect your skin from sunburn and melanoma (a deadly form of skin cancer). Salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, algae/seaweed, green leafy vegetables, flax, hemp and chia seeds are rich sources of Omega 3 fatty acids.
- Orange peels: 1 tsp. per week reduces the risk of squamous cell skin cancer
- Histidine-rich foods: stimulate healthy production of urocanic acid (a natural photoprotectant).Although adult humans produce this amino acid, it is believed that natural supplies run short easily. Histidine can be found in: meat, dairy products and grains such as rice, wheat and rye.
- Water: keeping your skin hydrated encourages a healthy NMF (natural moisture factor) which in turn, protects your skin from environmental factors. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids after sun exposure to prevent dehydration.
We definitely know that skin cancer is not ideal…
It is worrisome that Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. It is also worrisome that we remain attached to outdated theories about the cause of melanoma. Even the Melanoma Institute Australia admits “it has not yet been possible to completely identify how melanoma develops”.
Clearly, modern environmental factors are a cause, because humans lived for millions of years without developing the degenerative diseases we have today. Dr Sanjay Gupta says “there are very few indications of cancer in early human remains, and possibilities that have been found have been disputed.”
In my opinion, it’s time we began to really focus on the cause, not the symptom. Every time I see another campaign for a cancer awareness campaign, or a fundraising effort for a new pharmaceutical drug, my heart sinks. (I don’t want to speak about skin cancer treatments within this article – that requires another article’s worth of writing! Feel free to read more here…)
But then I remember that we’re in a new paradigm now; the young generations are not accepting degenerative disease and environmental pollution as normal. They’re creating a new kind of normal.
One where abundant health and happiness are simply the way life is.
View the Pretty Shady campaign video here…