Preventing skin cancer

Skin Tight

One of my colleagues here at HSI recently had an operation to remove a cancerous tumor. That my sound dire, but the operation lasted only 90 minutes and he was back at his desk working – pain-free – later that day. (His choice, not mine.)

Hundreds of these simple, outpatient surgeries are conducted every day for people with squamous cell skin cancer – one of the two most common types of cancer (basal cell skin cancer is the other). But even though this type of skin cancer is fairly easy to address, it’s even easier to prevent, as long as you know what to look for, and how to treat it.

Hitting a rough patch

More than a million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year. And by some estimates, nearly everyone who reaches their “golden” years will develop potentially pre-cancerous patches of rough or scaly skin known as actinic keratoses. If not addressed, some of this damaged skin can develop into squamous cell skin cancer.

But if your doctor should tell you that you have this type of skin cancer, don’t assume the worst.

Squamous cell cancer appears on the skin as small lumps or sore spots that don’t heal properly. This is a superficial cancer, and non-life-threatening unless allowed to advance over many years. By treating keratoses, however, you may be able to head off squamous cells before they develop.

Many doctors will address keratoses by prescribing a synthetic ointment that can be very harsh on surrounding skin. But there is a milder, natural alternative in products that contain glycoalkaloids.

On target

Glycoalkaloids are chemical compounds found in an Australian botanical known as the devil’s apple plant. Historically, the use of glycoalkaloid-rich plants in addressing skin conditions goes back to the second century A.D.

As a treatment for keratoses, glycoalkaloids are thought to work by exploiting structural differences between healthy and sun-damaged skin cells. As skin cells become damaged, the cell walls become more permeable, allowing glycoalkoloids to penetrate abnormal cells. Once inside the cell walls, glycoalkaloids release enzymes that break down the cells from the inside out. As the abnormal cells die, they’re replaced by healthy skin cells, which don’t absorb the glycoalkaloids, thus avoiding their destructive effects.

In a therapy of this kind, the ideal is a “targeted therapy” – one that attacks abnormal cells while sparing healthy cells. And that appears to be what glycoalkaloids may be able to do when applied to sun-damaged skin.

Don’t delay

For more information about using glycoalkaloids for keratoses, there are several Internet sources that offer glycoalkaloid creams; just search using the word “skin” along with “glycoalkaloids.” You can also find these products in many dietary supplement shops.

And if you’d like to read some testimonials about glycoalkaloids and other natural agents that treat keratoses, there’s a thread on the HSI Forum titled “Skin Answer” in which various exfoliate therapies are discussed by HSI members, including a member named John who has had success with a simple application of oil of oregano.

In whatever way you choose to address sun-damaged skin, the important thing is to treat it early. So if you’re concerned about rough or flaky spots on your skin, talk to your M.D. or naturopathic doctor to come up with a plan to treat those spots before they turn into more serious problems.

Early Warning

Today I’ve focused on keratoses and the highly treatable skin cancer that sometimes follows that condition. In addition, a study reported in the journal Cancer Letters showed that glycoalkaloids may also effectively treat squamous cell skin cancer and basal cell skin cancer in the early stages.

Of far greater concern is the skin cancer called melanoma. This is a very dangerous cancer, especially when it’s not diagnosed early. And it’s important to note here that melanoma cannot be reversed with glycoalkaloids. Melanoma is usually associated with moles, so if you experience any irregularity in a mole – such as changing shape, color, or size – call your doctor immediately.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute

“Glycoalkaloids: A New Non-Surgical Solution for Skin Cancer” HSI Members Alert, 5/1/98,
“Fruits Offer Powerful Protection From Skin Cancer” American Association for Cancer Research, Science Daily, 10/30/03,
“Glycoalkaloids from Solanum Sodomaeum are Effective in the Treatments of Skin Cancers in Man” Cancer Letter, Vol. 36, No. 2, August 1987,