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Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Justin

More than one million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed every year, affecting about one in three Americans within their lifetimes. The chief risk factor is UV exposure, whether from sunlight or tanning beds, but consumption of alcohol and animal products may also represent a substantial portion of skin cancer risk.

Skin Cancer: UV Exposure and Tanning Beds

Most cases of skin cancer are from chronic, excessive sun exposure and sunburns. The UV rays in sunlight and tanning beds are considered to be a complete carcinogen, which means the rays can not only initiate cancer, but also promote its progression and spread.

Tanning beds seem to be of specific concern to young people, particularly women, as they may be responsible for up to 75 percent of the melanoma cases. For those who visited the tanning salon ten or more times prior to their 30th birthday, the risk of skin cancer was six times greater. 

Skin Cancer and Alcohol

Alcohol consumption may play a significant role in skin cancer. Recent studies have shown an association between excessive drinking and higher rates of sunburn. This may be due to the free radicals produced as the body breaks down alcohol

Skin Cancer: Meat and Dairy

Consumption of animal products may raise the risk of melanoma via a certain molecule often found in tumors called Neu5Gc. Another threat from eating animal products might be the increase in the apparent cancer-fueling amino acid methionine

Lowering Skin Cancer Risk: Plant-Based Nutrition & Vitamin D

While there are benefits of sun exposure, we may be able to get many of the same benefits without the risk of skin cancer by eating a plant-based diet and supplementing with vitamin D.

Plant-based diets may be protective against skin cancer by means of increasing the antioxidant potential of our bloodstream, which can then be deposited in our tissues and protect us against the damaging effects of the sun’s rays.

Citrus peel consumption (zesting some of the peel into your food) may provide protection against skin cancer (but daily drinking of orange juice may increase the risk of the most serious type of skin cancer).

Other plant foods that have shown to reduce the risk of skin cancer: beans due to cancer-inhibiting phytates and, you guessed it, dark leafy greens! Just 31 grams of spinach per day (about three leaves) may cut the chances of skin cancer by 50 percent. Additionally, ingesting or topically applying green tea and curcumin seems to protect or actively destroy cancer and cancerous cells.   

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