Skin Cancer: Know Your Risks and Check Your Skin

Skin Cancer: Know Your Risks and Check Your Skin
image source: flickr

This weekend, my daughter and I went to a pool party. I was wearing: long white pants, sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and approximately 10 gallons of SPF 45. Obviously, I looked amazing.

This is what happens when you’re a fair-skinned redhead and burn the moment the sun rises. I must admit, though—as much as I hate having legs so white they blind people, it is sort of a blessing. Sunscreen is not optional for me. As a result, I’ve had to be responsible about my skin all my life.

If I’d been born with my daughter’s skin, I might have been more daring. She has the most gorgeous olive-colored skin I’ve ever seen, and doesn’t seem to burn. Putting sunscreen on a toddler is no fun at all (it’s sort of like trying to catch a fish with your hands), but it’s 100 percent worth the effort—she may not burn easily, but it’s simply too dangerous to go without protection.

image source: flickr
image source: flickr

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the world and more than 2 million cases will be diagnosed this year. Consider the statistics:

  • One bad sunburn doubles your chances of developing melanoma.
  • Melanoma is the second most common cancer in children and teens, and one of the most common in young adults.
  • Fair skin and red hair mean you have a higher risk of getting skin cancer.
  • You’re also at a higher risk if you have more than 50 moles, a weakened immune system, or a family history of skin cancer.
  • Tanning beds are very dangerous: One indoor tanning session in young adults increases melanoma risk by 20 percent. The risk of basal cell carcinoma increases by 25 percent after only one to two indoor tanning sessions. The risk soars to 73 percent after six or more sessions.

The statistics are depressing, but the good news is, you can help yourself (and others):

  • Wear sunscreen. No excuses. Yes, it’s a pain to apply, but it’s worth it. I like a spray sunscreen– it makes application a lot easier.
  • Avoid the sun during peak hours. Never use tanning beds.
  • Check your own skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation’s step-by-step guide tells you how.
  • Have a doctor check your skin. Visit a dermatologist if you find a rough, sandpaper-like patch, discover a new mole, or have a mole that has changed color, shape, or has started bleeding.

Now that you know how to protect yourself, help others. What we know about skin cancer is, for the most part, because of the work of skin cancer-focused organizations. Give today so they can continue their work, saving millions of lives.

image source: flickr
image source: flickr

You can also help with cancer research yourself. I recently signed up to participate in Cancer Prevention Study-3 through the American Cancer Society. If you’re between the ages of 30 and 65 and have never had cancer, please sign up for this long-term study. We will only stop cancer if we continue to support research, and fund programs searching for a cure.

Enjoy your summer…and don’t forget that SPF!

—Sara Olsher, Marketing Manager

Living with the Threat of Breast Cancer

Living with the Threat of Breast Cancer

When I was two years old, my dad’s sister died from breast cancer. She was 42. Sixteen years later, my mom’s sister, age 50, was diagnosed.  These are not my only relatives who have had breast cancer. In fact, every woman in my family, with the exception of my mother, has had breast cancer.

My dad’s sister is a “first-degree” relative. And because a woman’s risk of breast cancer nearly doubles if she has a first-degree relative diagnosed with it, I have to be very conscious about breast health.

Early Detection and Screening

My aunt was diagnosed at age 39, which led my doctor to suggest I start getting mammograms at age 29. I also do monthly self-breast exams. When she died, my aunt left behind two teenage daughters and a son. My female cousins and I have had many discussions about how we are each managing the risk. Because they are over 40 now, they both get yearly MRIs and mammograms.

We’ve talked about what we’d do if any of us found a cancerous lump. Would we consider radical mastectomy? What does early intervention mean? Even though these are very hard conversations, we all feel they are important: it’s the difference between life and death, and ignoring it or living in denial doesn’t make it go away.

Having a first-degree relative is not the only risk factor for breast cancer, but it’s one of the more serious. Women with inherited gene mutations (such as BRCA1 and BRCA2) have up to an 80% risk of developing breast cancer during their lifetime, and to be diagnosed younger. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you can be screened for these gene mutations. If they’re found, you can opt for more tests and begin to make some difficult decisions (like radical mastectomy).

When my dad went to see a geneticist, the doctor offered to test him for the BRCA genes for my benefit (and likely that of my cousins as well). Luckily, he does not have them.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to monthly breast exams and early mammograms, I’ve made some lifestyle changes as well. A few years ago, I was watching an episode of Oprah that featured Kris Karr, a woman living with an untreatable form of Stage 4 cancer. Her message was simple: change your lifestyle, because the products you eat and put on your skin could be killing you. I bought her book and was riveted.

Since then, I’ve read a few more books and consciously work on eating healthier. Research shows, almost unequivocally, that a plant-based diet can actually stop or even reverse cancer growth. So I don’t eat very much meat or dairy, and I include as many fruit/vegetable options as possible in my meals. Check out the documentary Forks Over Knives if you’d like an entertaining and informative introduction to treating disease with healthy foods.

Woman with Breast Cancer, and wig
image source

In addition to dietary changes, I’m also careful about plastics and cosmetics. Chemicals such as BPA and phthalates, which are commonly found in plastics and cosmetics such as makeup and lotions, can cause cancer.  If you’d like to learn more about plastics, I recommend the documentary Bag It. The last part of the film is dedicated specifically to cosmetics and plastics we use in everyday life—it’s really eye opening. Wondering what’s in your lotion? Search this database to find out what’s in your cosmetics.

Breast cancer is an incredibly pervasive disease that has touched most of our lives: if not personally, through a friend or a family member. It’s important that all women know the risk factors, not just those of us with a family history.

Read more about breast health and self-examinations at

How You Can Help

Donate to charities that are educating women and working to find a cure. And spread the word. Here are a few of my favorites:

Breast Cancer Charities

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is committed to providing adults and children with cancer the best treatment available today while developing tomorrow’s cures through cutting-edge research. (Charity Navigator ranks it as one of the best breast cancer charities.)

Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF)
BCRF supplies critical funding for innovative research into breast cancer treatment. More than 90 cents of every dollar spent by the organization goes to breast cancer research and awareness programs.

Working to Make Products Safer

Breast Cancer Fund
The Breast Cancer Fund has an amazing website with a wealth of information about the environmental causes of breast cancer. They’re working hard to raise awareness about the carcinogens in our everyday products

Have any questions about breast cancer or my experience? Leave them in the comments, or join us on Facebook. I’d love to continue to the conversation!

–Sara Olsher, Marketing Manager