If you’ve read Lance’s Story, you’ll know that melanoma started me on my cancer journey while I was living in Doha, Qatar. Briefly, in November 2012, I became aware that the 1cm x 0.5cm greyish cigar-shaped lesion on the right side of my torso had started to bleed slightly and, after a clinical diagnosis confirmed it as a nodular melanoma, it was surgically removed in March 2013. In December 2015, it metastasised to two lymph nodes under my right arm which, along with 26 other healthy nodes, were cleared via surgery in February 2016. Post-operatively, I refused the immunotherapy drug, ipilimumab (brand name Yervoy) that my oncologist wanted to prescribe for me because my research into the drug revealed a poor prognosis and awful side effects, and decided instead to go down the path of alternative and natural therapies which you can read about in my other natural healing for cancer blogs.
In this blog, I’m going to provide information on 8 key things you need to know about the different types of skin cancer, their level of risk to your overall health, the type of skin most at risk from UV light, what to look for when examining your skin, and the conventional and alternative treatment options available to you.
- There are two types of skin cancer. Non-melanomas are comprised of the most common types, Basal Cell Carcinomas and Squamous Cell Carcinomas, neither of which are connected to moles. Melanomas are much more deadly as they easily metastasise to other parts of the body and can develop from existing moles but also appear as new mole-like marks on the skin. See ** at the bottom of this post for details on these three types of skin cancer.
- The biggest cause of skin cancer is over exposure to UV light from the sun or from tanning beds although some cancers can appear in sun-shielded locations like mucous membranes, palms of the hands, soles of the feet, or between toes and under fingernails, all of which account for the genetic causation of some skin cancers.
- While nothing can protect you from the genetic causes of skin cancer, you can, of course, do much to prevent skin cancer by taking care of your skin when exposing it to UV light from the sun. You should cover the exposed areas of your skin in harsh sunlight, including a hat and UV protective sunglasses, seek shade when outside, particularly between 11.00-3.00 when the sun’s rays are at their strongest and, most importantly of all, apply a minimum SPF30 sunscreen with broad spectrum which protects the skin from both UVA rays (causes suntan) and UVB rays (causes sunburn). You should apply your suncreen 15-20 minutes before you go out and, if sunbathing, again after swimming. I will say, though, not to ‘go overboard’ in avoiding the sun as just 30 minutes per day provides the body with all the vitamin D that it needs to function effectively. However, tanning beds should be avoided at all costs as they emit around 12 times more UVA light than natural sunlight. UVA rays are extremely damaging as they penetrate deep into the dermis which is the thickest layer of the skin.
- You should know your skin type as this is a guide to the level of protection that your skin affords you and your consequent risk of skin cancer. It’ll also help you to choose the right SPF to protect your skin: the fairer your skin, the higher the SPF that you need. The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) has a ‘skindex’ which classifies skin into six types and the least protected from the sun is type 01; people with red hair and pale skin who rarely tan and burn very easily. Type 02 is fair skin that usually burns but may gradually tan (my daughter); type 03 is skin that burns with long or intense exposure to the sun but generally tans quite easily (me); type 04 is olive-coloured skin which tans easily but may burn with prolonged exposure to intense sunshine (my wife); type 05 is brown skin which darkens easily and only burns with excessive exposure to the sun and type 06, the most protected, is black skin that easily darkens and rarely, if ever, burns.
- You can also catch any skin cancer early by conducting regular self-examinations all over your body and contacting a dermatologist immediately if you suspect there might be something wrong. The BAD recommend a once a month check from top to toe in which you look for any moles or patches of skin that are growing, changing shape or colour, crusting, becoming red around the edges, bleeding, are inflamed or itchy. In order to conduct a thorough examination, you should get another person to check the difficult-to-see places like your back, scalp and behind your ears.
- As mentioned earlier, melanomas can develop from existing moles and also appear as new mole-like marks on the skin, but the British Association of Dermatologists have an ABCDE checklist that might indicate a melanoma. A is for Asymmetry where the two halves of the mole may differ in their shape and not match. B is for Border where the outside edge of the mole or area appear blurred and sometimes show notches or look ragged. C is for Colour which might be uneven or patchy with different shades of black, brown, pink and purple. D is for Diameter where the mole or mole-like mark is increasing in size (6mm or greater is more likely to be a melanoma) and, if you’re worried about anything on your skin, E is for contact an Expert, usually your doctor, who will then refer you to a consultant dermatologist if he or she thinks you might have a melanoma or is unsure.
- Conventional treatment for both Basel Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma is usually surgery if the cancer is small, but for larger cancers, the usual practice is Mohs surgery in which cancerous tissues are removed and examined while the patients waits until the all-clear is given. Other options include cryosurgery in which usually liquid nitrogen is sprayed onto the tumour at a temperature of -196C which freezes the abnormal or diseased tissue so that it simply falls off after 3-4 weeks. Topical chemotherapy and laser surgery are additional treatment options for BCCs. As SCCs are more likely to spread than BCCs, chemotherapy or biologic therapy might also be used although in the rare cases where BCCs metastasise, chemotherapy and targeted therapies are used. Treatments for metastatic melanoma include the biologic immunotherapy agents ipilimumab, pembrolizumab and nivolumab as well as the BRAF inhibitors vemurafenib and dabrafenib, and an MEK inhibitor, trametinib.
- An alternative treatment for skin cancer is Bicarbonate of Soda therapy. Bicarbonate of soda, also known as baking soda, is a white crystalline solid that appears as a fine powder and can be purchased in your local grocery store for only about £1.00 or $1.40. Although the originator of this therapy, Dr. Tullio Simoncini, uses it for cancers of the digestive tract (i.e. mouth, throat, stomach, intestines, colon and rectum) to kill overgrowths of the cancer-causing fungus, Candida Albicans, bicarbonate of soda alkalises the body and creates a cellular environment where cancer struggles to grow. Other people, like Vernon Johnston, author of ‘Vernon’s Dance With Cancer: After The Jolt’, healed prostate cancer that had also metastasised to his bones by using bicarbonate with molasses. As far as skin cancer is concerned, there is anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness of bicarbonate of soda applied to the skin of people suffering from Basal Cell and Squamous Cell Carcinomas and you can read how to do it here should you wish to try this approach. For a more personal account, you can read on the Collective Evolution website how a woman healed her mother’s Basal Cell Carcinoma by using bicarbonate. She also includes the following disclaimer at the end of her post: While this worked for me, it may not work for everyone. This is not intended as medical advice; anyone who reads this takes full responsibility for their actions and neither myself nor Collective Evolution will be held liable for the statements made.
** Non-melanomas are the most common forms of skin cancer and are usually either Basal Cell Carcinomas (BCC) or Squamous Cell Carcinomas (SCC). These non-melanomas aren’t connected to moles, are less serious than melanomas because they’re less likely to metastasise and most can easily be cured if detected early.
BCCs are the most common of the non-melanomas accounting for about 80% of all skin cancers and at least 32% of all cancers globally. They grow very slowly and highly unlikely to spread to other parts of the body unless they’ve been neglected for a long time in which case treatment might be more difficult. BCCs often appear as a painless raised area of skin, which may be shiny with small blood vessels running over it or it may appear as a raised area with ulceration. Click on this link for pictures of Basal Cell Carcinomas.
SCCs are the next most common of the non-melanomas, making up about 20% of all skin cancer cases. Like BCCs, they usually grow quite slowly but, if left untreated, carry a small risk (up to 10%) of metastasis which makes them more dangerous than BCCs but less so than melanomas. SCCs begin from squamous cells within the skin and usually appear as a hard lump with a scaly top but can also form an ulcer. Click here for photos of Squamous Cell Carcinomas.
Melanoma is the least common (only 1% of all skin cancers are melanoma), but most deadly form of skin cancer as it has a unique ability to spread to other sites in the body. It develops in the cells called melanocytes which produce the pigment that gives our skin its colour and is divided into eight different types, of which nodular melanoma is one. This is the type that I had excised in March 2013 and is the most aggressive form of the disease as it tends to rapidly penetrate the skin vertically rather than growing across it. Melanomas can develop from existing moles but also appear as new mole-like marks on the skin. According to the Melanoma Research Alliance (America’s largest non-profit funder of melanoma research), melanoma of the skin is one of the most common cancers in the United States, making up the top 10 causes of new cancer cases. More than 91,000 Americans are diagnosed with melanoma annually, which is an average of one person every 6 minutes, and around 10% of them will die from the disease. Click here for pictures of melanoma skin cancer.
As the old saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure.’ If you respect the sun (while also not being afraid of it), check your body all over regularly, know what to look for when doing so and then see your doctor quickly should you notice anything suspicious, you’ll maximise your chances of a healthy skin not blighted by cancer.