Skin Health Awareness Month may have come and gone, but at the Center for New Medicine/Cancer Center for Healing, we deal with skin cancer every day. With over 30 years of experience, Dr. Leigh Erin Connealy is considered a prominent leader in the field of Functional Medicine––integrating conventional, homeopathic, eastern medicine, and modern medicine to create personalized treatment plans for patients who come from all over the world. As the founder and medical director of the Cancer Center for Healing and Center for New Medicine, as well as the author of "The Cancer Revolution," Dr. Connealy has revolutionized the landscape of cancer treatment. In this interview, we asked Dr. Connealy about some misconceptions regarding the sun's role in skin cancer, the importance of healthy sun exposure, the impact of chemicals in traditional sunscreen, the link between healthy hormones and skin health, the role of epigenetics in gene expression, and the differences between conventional and integrative cancer treatments.
Q: It has been said that ultraviolet light from the sun plays the biggest role in the development of skin cancer. Is this still relevant today, and if not, what are the new findings?
A: Let's first understand the two major categories of skin cancers: melanoma and nonmelanoma. Nonmelanoma skin cancers, such as basal and squamous cell carcinomas, are commonly caused by long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight and tanning beds. Although they are not usually life-threatening, squamous cell carcinoma can grow deeper into the skin and spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma, the third most common type of skin cancer, is of great concern due to its lower survival rate. Melanoma can develop in areas of the body with minimal sun exposure, and its occurrence may be linked to high estrogen levels. Therefore, maintaining healthy estrogen levels and employing strategies to balance estrogen through food choices and avoidance of certain compounds can be beneficial.
Q: How can we achieve healthy sun exposure without risking the health of our skin?
A: While excessive sun exposure poses risks, getting too little sun can lead to vitamin D deficiencies, which are associated with various types of cancer. It's important to find a balance. For safe sun exposure, individuals should avoid intermittent exposure or reaching the point of sunburn or sun damage. Many patients benefit from regular, gradual sun exposure in small doses (less for fairer skin, more for highly pigmented skin) to prevent burning. If spending a significant amount of time outdoors, it is recommended to wear high-quality sunscreen and protective clothing. Lightweight, light-colored clothing and large hats provide effective coverage.
Q: What are the first signs of skin cancer that we should be aware of?
A: Unusual skin growths or sores that don't heal and abnormal-looking moles are often the first signs of skin cancer. Following the ABCDE rubric can help identify potential skin cancer:
A - Asymmetry: Look for moles where the two halves do not match.
B - Border: Early skin cancers tend to have uneven or scalloped edges.
C - Color: Warning signs include a variety of colors.
D - Diameter: Skin cancers are typically larger than the eraser on a pencil.
E - Evolving: Any change in size, shape, or color should be monitored.
Early detection of skin cancer greatly increases the chances of successful treatment.
Q: It is becoming evident that chemicals in traditional sunscreen are associated with skin cancer development. What is the truth behind this controversial topic?
A: Our skin readily absorbs what we apply to it. Unfortunately, several sunscreen brands have been recalled due to contamination with the known carcinogen, benzene. Benzene is specifically linked to leukemia and has been shown to increase the risk of developing cancer. When it comes to sunscreens, it is important to prioritize safety. Opting for mineral-based sunscreens, such as those containing zinc oxide, can be a safer choice.
Q: What are the top lifestyle and diet factors that contribute to skin cancer?
A: Nonmelanoma skin cancer is often associated with burns, intermittent sun exposure, and excessive sun exposure. It is crucial to practice safe sun exposure and avoid sunburns. On the other hand, the relationship between melanoma and the sun is more complex and is influenced by hormone imbalances. Nutrition, body weight, stress levels, and certain medications all play a role in maintaining healthy hormone levels. Consistently consuming nutrient-dense foods, managing stress through meditation, and engaging in regular physical activity are essential pillars for optimizing hormone levels and overall health.
Q: You often emphasize that our health is influenced by our environment. Could you expand on this concept?
A: Our environment encompasses the entire terrain of our body. When it comes to any illness, the state of our body's terrain plays a significant role in our response to that illness. To illustrate this, imagine a neighbor who regularly uses chemical-laden products on their lawn. In the scorching summer heat, their lawn becomes sun-scorched and dead. In contrast, if we provide our lawn with proper care, it can flourish into lush green pastures teeming with wildflowers, birds, and bees. The factors that shape our environment, such as hormones, nutrition, stress, and inflammation, demand attention. Symptoms serve as feedback, indicating a need to change the environment rather than representing failure. As I often say, a storm in the body creates the conditions for any type of cancer. Cancer cells behave according to the environment they are in.
Q: Is there a genetic component to skin cancer, and what role does epigenetics play in this?
A: Studies indicate that only 5-10% of cancers are directly linked to genetics. Cancer typically arises due to a combination of factors. For instance, the nutritional quality of our diet has declined, and many products marketed as "healthy" are not truly beneficial. We are frequently exposed to potentially harmful substances in our surroundings. Every day, news stories highlight cancer-causing toxins found in sunscreen and other products. Moreover, chronic modern stress has become pervasive. These factors collectively influence our environment and determine whether cancerous mutations occur. Epigenetics suggests that although we may carry genetic predispositions, those genes may not be expressed unless specific dietary and environmental factors are present. In essence, DNA represents the hardware, while epigenetics serves as the software.
Q: What are the differences between conventional and integrative treatments for skin cancer?
A: Conventional treatments for skin cancer include cryotherapy using liquid nitrogen, surgery, topical chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. On the other hand, integrative treatments take a comprehensive approach that involves assessing the patient's complete medical history, conducting a physical examination focusing on the entire biological system, analyzing lifestyle factors, and optimizing nutrition. Cutting-edge skin treatments may include approaches such as Curaderm, surgery, cryosurgery, and endolaser light therapy.
Q: In your book "The Cancer Revolution," you discuss preventative measures for maintaining overall health. Could you share your top five tips for promoting skin health?
A: Certainly! Here are five tips for maintaining skin health, which contribute to overall well-being:
Prioritize quality sleep.
Manage stress levels effectively.
Consume a nutrient-dense diet.
Aim for healthy levels of sunlight exposure.
Engage in regular physical activity.
Q: How important is early detection in skin cancer, and what are the first signs to look out for?
A: Early detection plays a crucial role in the successful treatment of skin cancer. It is essential to be vigilant and recognize the first signs of potential skin cancer. Some early warning signs include:
Unusual skin growth or sore that doesn't heal
Asymmetrical moles where the two halves do not match
Irregular borders with scalloped or notched edges
Varied colors within a mole
Larger diameter than the size of a pencil eraser
Any change in size, shape, or color of a mole or skin growth
Being aware of these signs and promptly seeking medical attention if any abnormalities are noticed can significantly increase the chances of successful treatment.
Q: Are there any additional tips or recommendations you can provide for maintaining skin health?
A: In addition to the previous tips, here are a few more recommendations for maintaining optimal skin health:
Stay hydrated: Drink an adequate amount of water daily to keep your skin hydrated and promote its overall health.
Protect your skin from harsh elements: Use appropriate clothing, hats, and umbrellas to shield your skin from excessive sun exposure, extreme weather conditions, and environmental pollutants.
Practice proper skincare: Cleanse your skin gently, moisturize regularly, and use skincare products suitable for your skin type. Avoid harsh chemicals and opt for natural or organic products whenever possible.
Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption: These habits can have detrimental effects on your skin's health and increase the risk of developing various diseases, including skin cancer.
Regular self-examinations: Conduct monthly self-examinations of your skin to identify any changes or abnormalities. Familiarize yourself with the ABCDE rubric (asymmetry, border, color, diameter, evolving) mentioned earlier to help identify potential warning signs.
Remember, maintaining skin health is not just about external factors but also encompasses overall well-being. Taking care of your body, nourishing it with a healthy diet, managing stress, and practicing good sleep hygiene all contribute to healthy skin.
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