We all know that prolonged or unprotected sun exposure can lead to skin cancer, but researchers have identified some other key factors that may increase your susceptibility to the disease. Following is information about these factors, as well as tips to help you reduce your risk.
Be Aware If You… Are An Annual Sun Worshipper
If you head for the tropics on your annual getaway, you may be putting yourself at increased risk. People who suddenly expose themselves to intense sun (often in the winter when they are at their palest), may increase their risk of melanoma. This is partially because sudden, increased exposure often leads to sunburn, which can lead to skin cancer. However, researchers are finding that while cumulative sun exposure is certainly a risk factor, sudden bursts of UV exposure seem to have a dramatic effect on the body’s defenses against melanoma.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have your sun escape, just take extra precautions to protect your skin.
Are Being Treated for an Autoimmune Disease
When your immune system is weakened, your skin cancer risk goes up. Some of the autoimmune disorders putting people at risk include rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, and Crohn’s disease. Another factor is the immune system suppressing drugs often used to combat these illnesses. Some, such as the TNF inhibitors taken by people with RA, boosted the risk of melanoma by 50 percent, according to the Yale University School of Medicine. Those with autoimmune diseases, and especially if taking immune system suppressing drugs, should talk with the doctors about possible precautions, do monthly skin checks, and see a doctor every six months for a skin exam.
Drink More Than One Alcoholic Beverage Per Day
According to the American Cancer Society, numerous studies have shown that drinking more than one cocktail per day on a regular basis increases the risk of melanoma by 20 percent. One reason is because compounds within alcohol make skin more sun sensitive. Another factor is because those affected by alcohol tend to be forgetful about sun protection. Another sobering thought: If you consume more than four cocktails or a few strong beers every day, your risk for melanoma goes up 55 percent.
Have More Than 11 Moles On Your Right Arm
The “arm test” tends to be an indicator of how many moles are likely to be present on your entire body. Women with that many moles on their arm typically had more than 100 moles on their body, which is a known risk factor for melanoma. If you count that many moles, be sure to slather on sun protection and take other precautions, and see your doctor for at least yearly skin checks.
Love Orange Juice
People who consume citrus, whether orange or grapefruit juice, at least once a day have a 36 percent higher skin cancer risk than those who drink these juices less frequently, according to the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Evidently, citrus foods make the skin more sun sensitive. However, there is no need to reduce your citrus intake, as citrus does provide important nutrients. The key is to reduce your sun exposure–at least within a few hours of consuming citrus.
Whether you have the above risk factors or not, these precautions can go a long way toward helping you and your family reduce your risk of skin cancer.
* When at the beach, opt to relax under an umbrella rather than laying directly in the sun.
* Remember, the sun is strongest from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., so try to minimize exposure during these times.
* If you are out during the heat of the day, wear a coverup.
* Eating oily fish or taking an Omega 3 supplement daily may help boost your skin’s immunity to sunlight, according to a British medical study. BUT, it does not replace the need for traditional sun protection.
* Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you are actually exposed to the sun so it is fully absorbed into the skin.
* Be sure to use enough sunscreen–it takes 1 ounce of lotion to cover an entire adult body. If you use a spray, coat every area twice to make sure you are fully covered. Sticks require four applications for complete coverage and are best for face, ears, back of neck, hairline, your part or the backs of your hands. A lotion is best for overall, base coverage.
* Remember to apply sunscreen everywhere, including back of the neck, ears, behind the knees, and feet–all prime areas for sunburn. According to the ACS, most melanomas–the deadliest type of skin cancer–are found on the back of women’s calves and on men’s backs.
* Your lips need protection too–look for a lip balm with SPF 15 or higher.
* Reapply sunscreen after swimming–there are no truly waterproof products.
* Know how to read sunscreen labels. “Water resistant” indicates when swimmers should reapply sunscreen–typically after 40 minutes for lighter formulas; after 80 minutes for more enduring ones. “Broad spectrum” means the sunscreen protects you against both UVA and UVB rays, so look for this on the label. For the most reliable products, look for the Seal of Recommendation from the Skin Cancer Foundation on the packaging.
* Sunscreen does lose its potency over time, so it is best to buy new each year.
* The sun is out–even on cloudy days–so still wear your sunscreen!
* The sun penetrates windows; wear sunscreen if you work near a window, or even while driving to work.
* Don’t let a high SPF number trick you into thinking that you can safely be out all day. After SPF 50, additional protection is negligible, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The key is to reapply sunscreen regularly.
* Have a skin check by a dermatologist annually–it’s the smartest way to catch any dangerous moles or changes to your skin.
* See your doctor immediately if you notice any changes in coloration, shape or texture of your moles, or the appearance of red, scaly patches.
* People of any skin color can get skin cancer.
* There is no such thing as a safe tan–whether it’s from the sun, or a tanning booth.
For more information on Partners for Women’s Health, call (603) 778-0557.
Pregnancy and Your Dental Health
A healthy mouth is important for a healthy pregnancy and baby. Researchers have found that there is a link between gum disease and premature or underweight births. An infection in your mouth can spread through your bloodstream to other parts of your body, putting your overall health, and your baby’s, at risk.
Here are some steps you can take to ensure that you are in good oral health both before and during your pregnancy.
* Prior to getting pregnant, pay a visit to your dentist for a complete checkup. He or she can flag any possible problems and prescribe treatment.
* Make sure you maintain a good program of oral care–brush twice daily, floss daily, eat a balanced diet, and follow any other recommendations your dentist suggests.
* Should any dental problem arise during pregnancy, see your dentist right away.
* If your checkup is early in your pregnancy, be sure to let your dentist know you are pregnant. Typically, X-rays, dental anesthetics, pain medications, and antibiotics (especially Tetracycline) are not prescribed during the first trimester.
* When scheduling a checkup while pregnant, it is best to shoot for the fourth to sixth month. The first trimester is critical to a child’s early development, so as previously noted, certain procedures are avoided. During the last trimester, stresses caused by dental visits may pose problems. Sitting for long periods can also be uncomfortable.
* During pregnancy, many women develop gingivitis or gum disease. This is caused by the buildup of dental plaque on the teeth, which irritates the gums. Symptoms include bleeding of the gums, especially during brushing, and inflammation. During pregnancy, increased hormone levels exaggerate the way your gums respond to the irritants within the plaque, making you more susceptible. Keeping your teeth clean, especially near the gumline, can dramatically reduce or even prevent gingivitis during pregnancy. Your dentist may also recommend gum stimulants or special rinses to help reduce plaque. Making sure you reduce sweets and consume healthier foods such as cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables can also aid your gums.
* Pregnancy dry mouth can put women at greater risk for tooth decay and infections, so be sure to drink plenty of water while pregnant. You might also consider chewing sugarless gum to keep your mouth moist.
* For some women, morning sickness is a real problem during the first trimester. In addition to nausea, they also experience extra acid in their mouths, which can erode teeth. If you suffer from morning sickness, be sure to rinse out your mouth regularly with water, and consider a fluoride mouthwash to help reduce the affects of the acids.
* If you should require an emergency visit while pregnant, let your dentist know about your pregnancy before you arrive. Discuss any stresses, issues, past miscarriages and medications you are taking in advance as this information may influence how your dentist proceeds. Your dentist may also consult with your obstetrician before beginning any treatment.
* If your dentist prescribes any medication, do not exceed the dosage–this includes aspirin.
A healthy mouth is the gateway to a healthy body. Good oral health can get you, and your baby, off to a good start.
For more information on Partners for Women’s Health, call (603) 778-0557.