ABC’s of Skin Cancer

Last month I had the opportunity to create a segment for Seattle’s Fox Q13 about skin cancer. I will admit I didn’t know much about skin cancer, what it looks like or if tanning beds made much of a difference in my chances of getting skin cancer. Confession time: In my younger years, I did use the tanning booth a few times. Luckily, I’ve never been much of a “sun worshipper” and I’ve been wearing sunscreen since college. But, growing up in sunny California where I played every outdoor sport, I do have a couple of suspicious spots and I’m curious if they are anything to be concerned about.

Time to call in an expert! I called dermatologist, Dr. DeEtta Gray in Bellevue, WA. She was a wealth of information. And the best part? She made skin care/cancer easy to understand. I now feel that I have the information I need to make informed choices about buying sunscreen, and taking better care of my skin. And yes, I am going to make an appointment to have her check on some of my suspicious moles.

Here is a portion of the information Dr. Gray shared:

  • Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US; 3.5 million cases per 2,000,000 cases occur per year
  • 1/5 people will develop a skin cancer in their life time
  • Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common (2.8 million cases/year)
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the second most common (700,000 cases/year)
  • Malignant Melanoma is the most dangerous and potentially deadliest form of skin cancer that will affect 1/48 people
  • Melanoma is the most common cancer for adults between the ages of 25-29
  • Melanoma can be 100% curable if recognized and treated early


Q: What does a Melanoma look like?

A: Melanoma is a malignant tumor that originates in melanocytes, the cells that produce the pigment melanin that makes our skin tan and colors our skin.  The majority of melanomas are black or dark brown but some are skin colored, red or multicolored.  They often appear as a new lesion but can occur in a preexisting atypical mole.

Q: What are the Warning signs: ABCDE’s of Melanoma?



B-Border Irregularity

C-Color Variability

D-Diameter usually pencil eraser size or larger

E-Evolving or changing shape or color

Q: If I have a family history of Melanoma, am I at risk?

A:  Yes. There is a 50% increased risk of developing a melanoma with an affected first degree relative (parent, sibling or child).

Q: Is a history of blistering sunburns a risk factor?

A: Yes.  Blistering sunburns in early childhood doubles the chance of developing a Melanoma, but cumulative sun exposure is also a strong factor. Both UVA and UVB rays are dangerous.  UV rays are a proven carcinogen and suggested to be responsible for 85% of all skin cancers.

Q: Is tanning in a tanning bed safe?

A: No.  Tanning in salons is more harmful than outdoor sun and should be avoided. Tanning beds are 2.3x more cancer causing than the mid-day Mediterranean sun.  The incidence of Melanoma has risen by 50% in young women in the last 25 years due tanning bed use.  Those that use tanning beds before the age of 35 have a 75% increased incidence of developing Melanoma.

Q: What sunscreens should be used for protection?

A: Sunscreens should have broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) protection and a Sun Protective Factor (SPF) of at least 30.  They should be reapplied after swimming, sweating and every 2 hours; even on cloudy days.

Here is my part of the interview:

Q. Are there foods that can help to regenerate my skin?

Yes! Eating more fruits & veggies is the best way to heal skin from the inside out. Fruits & veggies, which are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, can help repair damage. They also have a high water content to keep our bodies and skin hydrated. Studies show that oral antioxidants (just eat the food!) may decrease the risk for other cancers in addition to skin cancer, so I recommend an internal/external approach

Here are a few of my favorites:

Watermelon, Tomatoes, spinach & green tea

Watermelon & tomatoes have Lycopene. Research has shown that lycopene may reduce the photo aging effects of the sun. Foods high in lycopene include watermelon, tomatoes, papaya, pink guava, red bell peppers and pink grapefruit. Watermelon is especially rich in lycopene; it contains 40% more lycopene than tomatoes.

Green and black teas: rich in polyphenols. Polyphenols are one of the most powerful botanical antioxidants known today & can boost your skin`s antioxidant protection from the inside out. One study found that drinking two or more cups of either black or green tea may reduce the risk of developing squamous cell skin cancer.

Green leafy vegetables: One recent study suggested that spinach, kale and Swiss chard may reduce risk of squamous cell skin cancer.

1 Comment
  • Mansoureh
    Posted at 03:06h, 22 November Reply

    Hi your post will increase the awreneass in many prevent skin cancer. we should avoid tanning bad .. unfortunately here in Sweden and some cold countries where sun is rare .. people mainly young people are using tanning bad . can sunless tanning can be alternative to tanning beds ? like to know your thoughts.thank you

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