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12 Ways to Protect Your Skin and Prevent Skin Cancer


WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Leslie Pepper
Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo
How coffee protects you, and 11 other surprising ways to stop the most common cancer

1. All doctors are not created equal: When researchers from Emory University School of Medicine looked at the records of more than 2,000 melanoma patients, they found that those whose growths had been diagnosed by a dermatologist were more likely to have early-stage cancer — and to survive their disease — than those who'd been diagnosed by another kind of doctor. It may be that dermatologists are more skilled at finding smaller tumors — and less likely to brush them off as "nothing."

2. So-called harmless basal cell cancers aren't always so harmless: True, the growths are usually easy to remove, but of the million new cases each year, about 5 to 10 percent can be resistant to treatment, recurring over and over and requiring more extensive surgery. And some basal cells can be very aggressive, damaging the skin around them and even invading bone and cartilage. That's why if you have a suspicious growth, you should see a doctor promptly. "You want it removed before it disfigures your face," says Kishwer Nehal, M.D., director of Mohs and dermatologic surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

3. Your daily coffee fix may help you fend off skin cancer: For each cup of caffeinated java that you drink every day, there's a 5 percent drop in your odds of developing non-melanoma skin cancer later in life, researchers recently reported. Down a couple of Starbucks' venti coffees at 20 ounces apiece, and you may score a 30 percent drop in risk (or more — researchers didn't ask study participants about more than six cups a day). "It's possible coffee's antioxidant effect helps to protect against skin cancer," says Ernest L. Abel, Ph.D., professor of OB-GYN at Wayne State University School of Medicine. "But part of it may be that people who drink a lot of coffee tend to stay indoors more."

4. You can see a dermatologist for wrinkles a lot faster than for mole checks: In a study from the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, researchers posing as patients called more than 800 dermatologists across the country to see how long it would take to get different kinds of appointments. The disturbing results: When "patients" asked for a Botox treatment, the typical wait was eight days. But when their request concerned a changing mole, it went up — to 26 days, on average. Doctors may argue that the current state of health insurance has driven them to sometimes favor cosmetic patients, who pay in full on the day of treatment (insurance companies can take months to reimburse with only a fraction of the fee). Still, a changing mole isn't a trivial symptom. Make sure the receptionist knows why you need an appointment. If that doesn't work, ask your primary-care doc to intervene or to recommend another specialist.

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