Monday, January 14, 2008

Take Nothing for Granted: Sun Protection a Year-Round Affair

Many of my readers will likely remember the story of Tiffany Berg, and her husband Paul – a two-time skin cancer survivor. After years of skiing, snowboarding, and failing to wear any sunscreen caught up to him Christmas 2004, when Paul was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. What, at first, to be a pesky sore began growing up through the epithelial layer of his mouth, and through his nasal cavity. Unfortunately, the first round of “natural” treatments did not work. The squamous cell carcinoma returned. Yet, after several rounds of radiation, and serious re constructive surgery to repair his mouth and face, Paul's skin cancer was removed and he was deemed to be “cancer-free.”

Alas, Paul's skin cancer returned three years later. As of December 25, 2007, Paul had a two-inch tumor removed from his lower right jaw. The squamous cell carcinoma had returned. As such, the father of five is now undergoing six weeks of radiation treatment.

When Tiffany told me that Paul's skin cancer had returned, I was – in a word – stunned. I was reminded that we must not taking anything for granted—not even skin cancer!

While squamous cell carcinoma is generally 90-95% treatable when found in its early stages, it has the potential for metasis if left untreated. In other words, it can grow and spread to other parts of the body thus becoming potentially life-threatening. Hence, it is vitally important that we perform regular skin exams each month, and visit the dermatologist every year. Moreover, we must be vigilant about wearing an effective broad-spectrum sunscreen all year-round—even during the winter. So, winter sports enthusiasts beware – ultraviolet radiation is highly reflective off of water and snow. The UV exposure from above is akin to double-whammy; therefore, be sure to protect your skin—especially your face and mouth—with proper sunscreen. And remember, to reapply sunscreen at least once every two hours (every hour if you are skiing/snowboarding at particularly high altitudes for an extended period of time).

Consider the following statistics recently released from a study conducted by Patricia Ayanbadejo, a scientist for the Internet Journal of Dentistry and Primary Orofacial Squamous Cell Carcinoma:

“Squamous cell carcinoma of the orofacial region [mouth and face] is an insidious and potentially life-threatening malignant neoplasm representing more than 90% of all head and neck cancers”, Ayanbadejo says.

In layman's terms, this means that squamous cell carcinoma can be potentially deadly if left untreated, and that it accounts for nearly all head/neck-related cancers.

Yet, the good news is that since squamous cell carcinoma (like other skin cancers) is largely attributable to cumulative sun exposure, it is largely preventable. Skin cancer is preventable if we are proactive about proper sun protection—all day, every day, even on cloudy and cold days.

Ye winter sports enthusiasts have been warned. Take nothing for granted. Remember, ultraviolet radiation is reflective—highly reflective off of snow and water. Hence, it is imperative that you apply a quality broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen to all exposed parts of your body—especially your face and lips. To learn more about how ultraviolet radiation works, and the importance of proper application (and reapplication) of a quality sunscreen, please read the hyperlinked articles. For a free sample of Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen to take with you as you hit the slopes (or whenever you venture outdoors), please contact The Cancer Crusaders Organization at

Skin cancer is preventable only if we are proactive about proper year-round sun protection, as well as regular skin exams. So, be sure to take the proper precautions NOW to protect yourself from a future skin cancer diagnosis. Parents of young children under the age of 18, should adequately protect their children from UV exposure especially since 80% of one's lifetime sun damage occurs before age 18.

Additionally, if you have had skin cancer removed in the past, be sure and follow-up with your dermatologist-oncologist so to avoid recurrence. “Regular examination of the skin, especially of the head and neck if you have had orofacial skin cancers removed in the past is particularly important during the first two years of treatment, when 90% of recurrences develop,” says Ayanbadejo. “Local recurrence, or development of new primary tumors, is particularly common in patients who have been treated for cancer in the upper aerodigestive [lips, mouth, tongue, nose, throat, vocal cords, and part of the esophagus and windpipe] tract,” she says. “These patients are not only at risk for cancer in the head and neck region (recurrences and second primaries) but also of developing cancer in other parts of the body, particularly the lungs or esophagus.”

Again, skin cancer is preventable. Yet, it is also the most common cancer in the world. As such, it is imperative that we make sun protection a year-round affair, even during the winter months. While we may think that sun exposure will not directly effect us now, the cumulative exposure can—and does—lead to a heightened risk for skin cancer in the future. As Paul Berg once said in an interview conducted in 2005, after his second bought of skin cancer, “as kids we had no idea that the sun could hurt us.”

With that, take nothing for granted. Be proactive and protect your skin—all day, every day—for life! Skin cancer is not a summer-time only disease; rather, sun protection is a year-round affair.

For more information, check out the American Academy of Dermatology.

(Note: Special, updated edition of ONLY SKIN DEEP? An Essential Guide to Effective Skin Cancer Programs and Resources coming soon.)

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