Last night was a good example. On the CBS Evening News, we took a look at First Lady Laura Bush's skin cancer diagnosis. She had a skin cancer tumor removed five weeks ago, and decided not to disclose it publicly because, as the White House has said, "it's no big deal and we knew it was no big deal at the time.''
It got me thinking though, that the disclosure is actually a big deal because it gives us a chance to learn more about skin cancer, which isn't often in the news. And of course, like with any cancer, an early diagnosis is key.
Yesterday, I spoke with Dr. Darrick Antell, a leading plastic surgeon who regularly identifies skin cancer. I wanted to know, as a doctor, what he thinks is the most important message for people. He says we all need to do self-exams and ideally, go to a dermatologist or plastic surgeon at least once a year to check for any suspicious growths or changes. Squamous cell carcinoma, the type of cancer Laura Bush has, can often appear as a rough or scaly patch and requires a biopsy, Dr. Antell says.
The rate of skin cancer is actually increasing around the world at a dramatic rate. As we make dramatic advances in fighting all sorts of cancers, why is skin cancer on the rise? Doctors aren't really sure. It could have something to with "binge tanning," according to Dr. Antell. It's the first time I've heard of that term. It refers to a burst of sun exposure, which can substantially increase your risk of skin cancer. The easier it has become to just pick up and travel to a tropical climate, the more prevalent binge tanning has become. Even skiing out in the cold can seriously damage your skin.
That ozone layer isn't nearly as protective as it once was. So, remember to wear that sunscreen. And don't skimp on it! We typically apply half as much as we need, and then, forget to reapply it, Dr. Antell told me.
Some doctors also fear that people trying to stay cancer-free may have been misled about a recent study that said vitamin D, which you can get from sun exposure, can actually decrease your risk of colon cancer by fifty percent. It may help stave off breast and prostate cancer as well. But that doesn't mean we can stay in the sun or tan without impunity. Dr. Walt Willett of Harvard Medical School told me supplements are your best bet. One thousand IUs seem ideal — most multi-vitamins only have 400, but he said that may be changing so people can get the positive effects of this helpful vitamin.
And, if that's not enough to keep you away from too much sun…here's a reason that will appeal to your vanity: Tanning accelerates the aging process!! Parasol, anyone?