Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime? Each year more than 5 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer are treated and there are more new cases of skin cancer than cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon combined. In fact, over the course of the past three decades, more people have had skin cancers than all other skin cancers combined. (1)
Reading these statistics may scare you or surprise you. The good news is that skin cancer can be identified early if you know the skin cancer symptoms to look for. Read on to learn more about steps you can take to monitor your body for signs of skin cancer and what to do about it if you find any suspicious growths. You’ll also learn more about dietary and lifestyle changes you can make to improve your health and boost your odds of both preventing and beating skin cancer.
What Is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the abnormal and rapid growth of skin cells. Skin cancer can be categorized into three main types:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer. BCC occurs in the outermost layer of your skin and will often cause skin cancer symptoms such as open sores, red patches, shiny bumps or scars. It rarely metastasizes (spreads) past the original tumor site. However, it is still malignant and if you suspect you may have BCC, you should still see your health care provider. Sources report that up to three million cases are diagnosed each year. (2)
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) occurs when abnormal cells start to grow uncontrollably in the upper layers of the skin. (3) SCC skin cancer symptoms include open sores, scaly red patches and the characteristic elevated growth with a central hole — in fact, SCC is also referred to as the “rat-bite” tumor because of this distinctive appearance. SCC can also bleed or crust and can lead to death if allowed to grow. More than one million cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S. and about 8,800 people die from it each year. (4)
Melanoma is not the most common skin cancer, but it is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “These cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells … triggers mutations (genetic defects) that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.” (5) Melanoma kills over 10,000 people in the U.S. annually. (6)
Melanoma skin cancer symptoms are bumps or patches that resemble moles and are usually black or brown. They can also be blue, pink, red, white or even skin-colored. If recognized and treated early, melanoma can be curable. If not, it can advance and metastasize to other areas of the body, making it harder to treat and potentially fatal.
The ABCDEs of Skin Cancer Symptoms
In addition to the changes in skin described above, there are five key skin cancer symptoms (called the “ABCDEs”) that can help you recognize skin cancer early. Doctors recommend performing regular head-to-toe checks while keeping an eye out for these five ABCDEs of skin tumors: (7)
A (Asymmetry): If you draw an imaginary line through the middle of the mole or lesion on your skin and the two halves are not symmetrical, this may be a sign that it is malignant.
B (Border): Non-malignant moles will typically have a smooth, regular border. The border of an early melanoma will generally be jagged or uneven.
C (Color): Melanomas are known for being a variety of colors, particularly shades of black, brown and tan. They may also be blue, red and other colors. A non-malignant mole or growth is usually only one color.
D (Diameter): As a rule of thumb, non-malignant skin cancers are smaller than a quarter inch in diameter. Melanomas are usually larger in diameter, so keep an eye on larger moles.
E (Evolving): If you notice potential skin cancer symptoms such as changes in color, elevation, size or shape of a mole, and if any new symptoms arise (bleeding, crusting, itching, etc.), then see your doctor as it could be dangerous.
Not all cancers fit the ABCDE profiling. It’s important to take note of any new skin spots or growths and consult with your doctor about any moles, freckles or spots that seem unusual.
Some other skin cancer symptoms to watch for may include the following. See your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.:
- Pigmented patches or growths that grow beyond their border, are red, swell or do not heal
- Tenderness, itching, pain or sensitivity in a bump or mole
- A mole that changes shape, becomes scaly or bleeds
Skin Cancer Risk Factors
Skin cancer can appear anywhere on the body, but it’s more likely to occur in areas that are frequently exposed to the sun such as the face, neck, hands and arms.
Skin cancer risk factors include: (8)
- Exposure to sunlight and artificial UV light (such as tanning beds) over a long period of time
- Having a light complexion:
- Fair skin that freckles or burns easily or tans poorly
- Blue, green or light-colored eyes
- Red or blond hair
- Having actinic keratosis, a type of potential precancerous lesion
- Past radiation treatment
- A weakened immune system
- Genetic predisposition
- Arsenic exposure
Other general cancer risk factors include:
- Exposure to environmental toxins and chemicals
- Toxic beauty products, household cleaners and sunscreen (Yes, ironically some sunscreens contain harmful ingredients!)
- Poor diet
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Not enough vitamin D (Just as too much sunlight can be bad for you, not enough exposure to the sun, or other sources of vitamin D, is also harmful.)
- Certain viruses and bacteria
Diagnosing Skin Cancer
Your health care provider will use one or both of two methods of diagnosing possible skin cancer symptoms — examination and biopsy — to determine whether or not a growth is cancerous: (9)
- Skin exam: The doctor or nurse examines skin to look for any unusual bumps or spots, paying close attention to any abnormalities in color, shape, size or texture.
- Skin biopsy: Either all or a small portion of a growth is removed and checked for signs of cancer under a microscope. There are four types of skin biopsy:
- Shave biopsy: A bit of the growth is shaved off with a sterile razor blade.
- Punch biopsy: A punch, or trephine, used to punch out a circular bit of the abnormal growth.
- Incisional biopsy: Part of the growth is removed.
- Excisional biopsy: The entire growth is removed.
Metastasis & How Cancer Spreads
Cancer spreads, or metastasizes, to other parts of the body in three basic ways:
- Tissue: The cancer cells spread from the tumor to nearby tissue.
- Lymph system: Cancer cells travel from the primary tumor through the lymphatic system to other parts of the body.
- Blood: Cancer cells enter the bloodstream from the primary tumor and spread to other parts of the body.
Three basic kinds of testing are used to determine if the cancer has spread: (10)
- CT scan (CAT scan)
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
- Lymph node biopsy
Cancer staging ranges from stage 0 through stage 4. The cancer stage depends on factors such as whether or not the cancer is localized or if, and how far, it has spread and the size of the tumor. For example, at stage 0, the cancer is still confined to the tumor itself (known as carcinoma in situ). Each stage beyond this indicates an increase in size and how far the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. At stage 4, the cancer has spread, or metastasized, to much of the body and the cancer is very difficult to treat. There are no further stages beyond stage 4. (11)
With skin cancer, there are also different factors for staging based on whether or not the cancer appears on the eyelid or other areas and whether or not the cancer is a nonmelanoma (BCC or SCC) or a melanoma.
Conventional Skin Cancer Treatment
- Cancer stage
- Type of cancer
- Size of the tumor and body part affected
- How aggressive the cancer is (how fast the cancer cells are dividing and spreading)
- Patient’s age and overall health
Standard conventional skin cancer treatments may include:
Surgery: Various forms of surgery may be used depending on the type, stage and location of the cancer.
Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy relies on radiation to destroy or shrink the cancer tumor. It can cause side effects such as skin irritation, salivary gland damage, vomiting and hair loss, among others, depending on the location of the treatment.
Chemotherapy: Also known as “chemo,” chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells and ease symptoms. However, it’s also highly toxic and can cause difficult side effects such as nausea, vomiting, hair loss and cause damage to healthy cells as well as cancer cells.
Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy is basically a form of chemotherapy, but it’s able to “target” specific aspects of cancer cells. Sometimes targeted therapies are used alone but they are also given with other forms of chemotherapy. Like other forms of chemotherapy, they can also cause side effects, including changes to the hair and skin.
Photodynamic therapy: Used for treating skin cancers and cancers on the lining of internal organs or cavities, this therapy combines a photosensitizing chemical with a special type of activating light to kill cancer cells. Photodynamic therapy causes the eyes and skin to become sensitive to light for about six weeks after treatment and it can cause other temporary side effects, including coughing, abdominal pain, and trouble swallowing, among others.
Immunotherapy: As the name implies, this therapy uses the patient’s own immune system to fight their cancer. Some types of immunotherapy are called biologic therapy. It works better on certain types of cancers than others. Immunotherapy may be used to treat melanoma.
If other therapies aren’t working, or for some reason aren’t a viable option, sometimes patients may participate in clinical trials for new treatments. These are treatments that are still in the research phase and are not yet available on a widespread basis, but may have some efficacy in treating difficult cancers and may lead to new standard treatments.
Further details about skin cancer staging and conventional treatment can be found online on the National Cancer Institute’s website.
Natural Skin Cancer Therapies
Given how harsh the side effects of conventional treatment can be on the body, I recommend trying natural skin cancer treatments. Either used along with standard therapies or on their own, these natural therapies can aid the body in the therapeutic process and provide much-needed relief from the difficulties of the disease. Below are some additional remedies that may offer therapeutic benefits and relief for skin cancer symptoms.
Eggplant extract — A study published by U.K. researchers in the International Journal of Dermatology demonstrated that a cream with a 0.005 percent concentration of solasodine glycosides, a compound derived from eggplant, is a safe and effective therapy for keratosis and early stage basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. The cream is not currently available in the U.S. (14)
Frankincense and myrrh oils — Since recorded history myrrh has been used to treat a wide range of diseases. At one point in history, myrrh was so precious that its value was determined by its weight in gold!
There is limited research on the use of myrrh, but a 2013 study found that the use of frankincense and myrrh oils on basal cell cancer lines (A549 cell lines), seems to help encourage apoptosis, or cell death, of these skin cancer cells. While promising, the researchers noted that further studies are needed. (15)
Myrrh oil is best applied mixed with a carrier oil such as coconut, jojoba, almond or grapeseed oil. Frankincense oil can be applied directly to the skin as an essential oil or as a salve to help relieve skin cancer symptoms.
Lifestyle Changes to Help Skin Cancer Symptoms
Remove Toxins & Find Healthier Alternatives
- Filter your water. Tap water often contains chemicals such as chlorine, fluoride and arsenic, among others, which are toxic to your health.
- Remove dangerous chemicals and toxic products from your homes. Identify any products in your home that contain the Top 10 Chemicals Threatening Your Health Right Now and replace them with safer alternatives.
- As a safer and healthier alternative to toxic chemical-based products, use natural or organic cleaning products and beauty products (especially avoid sodium laurel sulfate, propylene glycol, etc.). Or, better yet, try making your own (which is usually the safest way to ensure the least amount of contaminants).
- Get outside! Time spent outdoors breathing in fresh air and getting some mild-to-moderate exercise can boost your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing by easing anxiety and helping to clear toxins from your body. Be sure to take any necessary precautions because of your illness, such as wearing sunglasses or protective clothing.
Try a Cleanse
Just as you detox your home and environment, you can also detox your body with a liver cleanse to help your body remove any existing irritants and balance your digestive tract while helping to ease skin cancer symptoms. With any cleanse or diet change, it is important to listen to your body. Cleansing can have side effects, such as flu-like symptoms. This is the result of stored toxins being released and is normal. However, should you experience any headaches, nausea or flu-like symptoms, always consult your doctor or reduce any cleansing agent you may be taking. If you are going through any conventional cancer treatments that may be hard on the body, take extra precautions before and during a cleanse and speak with your health care provider about any concerns you may have.
Eat Foods That Help Fight Cancer
- Green, leafy vegetables rich in key vitamins and minerals and fiber, such as spinach and kale.
- Clean, healthy proteins like grass-fed meat, eggs, wild-caught fish, nuts and seeds
- Sources of healthy fats rich such as avocados, cold-pressed olive oil, coconut oil, ghee or clarified butter
- Antioxidant-rich foods, including berries (blackberries, blueberries, goji berries, etc.), pecans, walnuts, artichoke hearts, cloves, acai berries, cocoa (in moderation) and garlic.
- Then there is Manuka honey for skin cancer. As research published in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine concludes, “Evidence is growing that honey may have the potential to be anticancer agent through several mechanisms.”
To get started, try following my healing foods diet, which includes a shopping list that you can print out. Eat organic, whole foods and avoid non-GMO foods as much as possible. Avoid any known food allergens and speak with your health care provider or a nutritionist if you have any questions about how best to implement a new diet.
Foods to Avoid
Since cancer thrives in an acidic and toxic environment, it is important to remove any foods that increase inflammation in the body. Remove processed foods, refined cooking oils, sugars (corn syrup & artificial sweeteners), fast food and avoid consuming foods with a high omega-6 ratio.
Avoid foods such as corn-fed beef, corn and soy products, gluten, trans fats, fried foods, deli meats or foods that have any added preservatives or nitrates.
Supplements to Help Skin Cancer Symptoms
Pancreatic Enzymes — These enzymes are important in controlling inflammation, optimizing blood flow, boosting the immune system and helping to prevent cancer.
Probiotics — Nourishing your body with probiotics helps boost healthy gut bacteria. Benefits of a high-quality probiotic supplement and foods include a stronger and healthier immune system and improved digestion, among others.
Turmeric — Turmeric, particularly its active compound curcumin, has many health benefits. These include boosting immune health and potentially helping to treat cancer.
Check with your health care provider before making major dietary and exercise changes, especially if you are currently undergoing conventional cancer treatment, have other health conditions or if you are pregnant or nursing.
Skin Cancer Key Points
- Skin cancer can be categorized into three main types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma
- Be sure to learn the ABCDEs of examining moles or suspicious growths so that you know the skin cancer symptoms to look for. Reach out to your health care provider if you see any unusual colors or changes in color, size or shape of moles.
- Skin cancer is diagnosed through a combination of examination and biopsy.
- Treatment will depend on the type, location and stage of the cancer.
- Natural therapies and lifestyle changes can help relieve skin cancer symptoms.
6 Natural Skin Cancer Therapies & Lifestyle Changes
- Apply an eggplant extract cream or solution.
- Apply frankincense and myrrh oils.
- Remove toxins from your home and body products and find healthier alternatives.
- Try a cleanse.
- Eat a healing diet and avoid unhealthy foods.
- Try supplementing with vitamin D, pancreatic enzymes, probiotics and turmeric.
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