Stronger Bones Can Prevent and Treat Osteoporosis

Stronger Bones Can Prevent and Treat Osteoporosis

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As you age, your bones tend to get thinner and more brittle. This can lead to health problems and may make it harder for you to be independent and perform your usual daily activities. It can also be hard to recover from broken bones as an older adult.

Taking steps to strengthen your bones can help you stay healthy and active in the future.

Understanding Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease that leads to weak bones. About 4.2% of men and 18.8% of women over the age of 50 have this condition.

When you are younger, your body goes through an ongoing process of breaking down old bone tissue and creating new bone to replace it. However, your body will start creating new bone at a slower rate. After this time, your bone tissue will continue to be eliminated, but your body may not make enough new tissue to replace the bone loss. Therefore, it’s important to strengthen the bone you have and to take measures to prevent your bones from being broken down.

If your bones become too weak and fragile, you may be diagnosed with osteoporosis. This condition may occur if:

  • You have a very low bone mineral density (a measure of how much calcium and other minerals are present within your bone tissue)
  • You lose too much bone mass and your bones become thin
  • Your bone structure or quality begins to change

People with osteoporosis are more likely to experience bone breaks or fractures. The most commonly broken bones in people with osteoporosis are the hip, wrist, and spinal vertebrae. In fact, half of all women age 50 and above will experience a fracture in one of these bones at some point during their life. However, it is possible to break any bone.

Osteoporosis is related to another similar disorder called osteopenia. Osteopenia or low bone mass also leads to weakened bones but isn’t as severe as osteoporosis. However, people with osteopenia can develop osteoporosis in the future.

Symptoms of Osteoporosis

Many people with osteoporosis don’t realize they have the condition. They often don’t have symptoms when the disease is still in its early stages, and they may only discover that they have weakened bones when they experience a fracture.

In some cases, people may develop noticeable symptoms, such as:

  • A decrease in height
  • A stooped posture
  • Back pain due to a compression fracture of the spinal vertebrae
  • Kyphosis (a curving of the top area of the spine, leading to a round hump in the upper part of the back or base of the neck)

What Causes Osteoporosis?

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Factors that cause your body to destroy bone at a quicker rate than normal or prevent your body from making new bone can lead to osteoporosis. You may be at risk if you:

  • Are older and have gone through menopause or have decreasing hormone levels
  • Went through early menopause, either naturally or as a result of surgery to remove the ovaries
  • Have experienced a period of time (at least three months in a row) in which you don’t have menstrual periods
  • Are underweight (weigh less than 127 pounds)
  • Have family members who have had osteoporosis
  • Have experienced a bone fracture after the age of 50
  • Don’t consume enough foods or drinks that contain calcium or vitamin D
  • Have a condition that prevents your body from absorbing calcium from the things you eat (for example, you’ve had gastric bypass surgery)
  • Drink a lot of alcohol
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Are not very physically active
  • Have a disorder that causes chronic inflammation
  • Take certain medications that can weaken the bones
  • Have anorexia, bulimia, or another eating disorder

Certain people are also more likely to develop osteoporosis. Women get this condition more often than men — four out of five people with osteoporosis are women. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, women tend to naturally have smaller, less dense bones compared to men. Additionally, estrogen helps lengthen the lifespan of osteoblasts — the cells that build new bone tissue. When women go through menopause, they produce far less estrogen, making them lose bone more quickly. Finally, women are more likely to live longer than men, and bone strength decreases over time.

White women and Asian women get osteoporosis more often than Black women and Hispanic women. However, all women have some risk of developing the condition. White men are also more likely to develop osteoporosis than men of other races and ethnicities.

Diagnosing Osteoporosis

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Your doctor can measure your bone density with a type of painless X-ray scan called central dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA). This scan can measure how thick your bones are and use this information to determine whether you are experiencing bone loss and calculate your risk of breaking bones in the future.

Public health experts recommend undergoing a DXA to screen for osteoporosis about once every two years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends DXA screening for women over the age of 65. Additionally, screening may be a good idea for women between the ages of 50 and 64 who have certain risk factors (such as having a family history of osteoporosis).

A DXA may also be paired with other diagnostic tests. Your doctor may recommend a vertebral fracture assessment (VFA) — a spine X-ray that can determine if you have any breaks in your spinal vertebrae. You may also undergo blood and urine tests to look for any other health issues that could be causing bone loss.

Preventing and Treating Osteoporosis

By focusing on your bone health, you can take measures to strengthen your bones or prevent additional bone loss. These strategies may help you avoid having problems with low bone density in the future. Alternatively, if you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, these measures may help you prevent your condition from worsening.

Getting More Calcium and Vitamin D

Boost your bone strength with important nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is important for many parts of the body, including the bones, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. The body’s main way of storing calcium is in the bones. When you don’t get enough calcium from your diet, your body will remove it from your bones, making them weaker.

Foods and drinks that contain calcium include:

  • Dairy products like milk and yogurt
  • Spinach, kale, bok choy, and other dark green leafy vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Cans of sardines or salmon that contain bones
  • Foods with added calcium, such as tofu, soy milk, breakfast cereal, and orange juice

You also need vitamin D in order for your digestive system to absorb calcium from your food. To get more vitamin D, reach for:

  • Milk
  • Milk alternative products like soy milk and oat milk
  • Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, and trout
  • Mushrooms
  • Beef liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Foods with added vitamin D, including some kinds of yogurt, margarine, and breakfast cereals

To check whether certain foods contain calcium or vitamin D, check the Nutrition Facts label. The best food sources of calcium will provide at least 20% of your daily value of this nutrient.

You can also take supplements that contain calcium, vitamin D, or both. Your skin also makes vitamin D when you are in the sun. However, too much sun exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer, so it’s a good idea to get vitamin D from your diet and protect yourself from the sun when you’re outside.

Lifestyle Changes

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, One great way to increase or maintain bone density is through weight-bearing exercises. This includes any type of activity in which your muscles pull on your bones. You may want to try:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Hiking
  • Climbing stairs
  • Doing aerobics
  • Weight training (lifting weights or performing bodyweight exercises)
  • Playing tennis
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi

Before trying a new exercise or increasing your levels of physical activity, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor. If you already have osteoporosis, you should avoid activities that twist your spine or put pressure on your back, including swinging a golf club, doing sit-ups, or performing toe touches. You may also need to stay away from activities like step aerobics that place a lot of pressure on your joints and may lead to fractures.

Other lifestyle changes can also help you protect your bones. Alcohol disrupts the body’s ability to use calcium, make vitamin D, regulate stress levels, and maintain a proper balance of hormones. These factors can all decrease bone density. Therefore, limiting how much alcohol you drink may lessen your chances of developing bone problems.

Studies show that people who smoke cigarettes have a higher risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. Their bones also take longer to heal after breaking. To support bone health, join a program to help you quit smoking or ask your doctor for advice.

Managing Other Health Conditions

Several disorders can increase the risk of osteoporosis. These include anorexia, rheumatoid arthritis, conditions that lead to hormone imbalances, gastrointestinal conditions, HIV infections, and certain types of cancer.

Working with your doctor to find an effective treatment plan and keep these conditions under control may help you avoid bone problems down the line.

Avoiding Medications That Cause Bone Loss

Some medications can weaken the bones, such as:

  • Glucocorticoids (a type of steroid medication)
  • Certain medications that treat rheumatoid arthritis or asthma
  • Thiazolidinediones (a diabetes treatment)
  • Proton pump inhibitors (drugs used to treat stomach ulcers and acid reflux)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs (medications prescribed for depression and anxiety)
  • Medications that treat seizures
  • Breast cancer or prostate cancer treatments that involve taking hormones

Taking Medication to Strengthen Bones

Certain medications can help prevent or treat osteoporosis. The most commonly used drugs are bisphosphonates, which help slow down the rate at which your body loses bone tissue. Other medications like Xgeva (denosumab) and Evenity (romosozumab) are antibody medications that block body processes that break down the bones.

Some osteoporosis medications contain hormones or related molecules that can help build up more bone. These treatments include Forteo (teriparatide), Tymlos (abaloparatide), Calcimar (calcitonin), parathyroid hormone analogs, estrogen therapy, and estrogen receptor modulators.

Staying Safe

Weakened bones lead to a greater risk of fractures, which may mean hospital visits, surgery, or a lot of bed rest. Preventing falls can help you stay safe and avoid breaking your bones.

Unfortunately, your risk of falling increases as you age. Eye problems, hearing difficulties, dulled reflexes, muscle weakness, and foot problems can all lead to falls. Additionally, you may have other health conditions or need to take medication that makes you feel tired, dizzy, confused, or off-balance.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help prevent falling and fractures, including:

  • Take care of your eyes and ears — Get your sight and hearing tested regularly. Make sure to wear any glasses, contacts, or hearing aids you are prescribed.
  • Get enough sleep — You are more likely to fall when you feel tired.
  • Take your time getting up — Your blood pressure may drop and you may feel off-balance when you quickly stand up after sitting or lying down.
  • Cut back on alcohol — The more that older adults drink, the more likely they are to break their hip.
  • Be aware of medication side effects — Talk to your doctor if you think your drug regimen is making you feel tired or confused.
  • Add more lighting in your home — Make sure all of your living spaces are well-lit, including stairways and long halls.
  • Keep your floor clear — Attach carpets and rugs to the floor to avoid slipping, and don’t leave items or electric cords laying on the floor where you could trip over them.
  • Wear proper shoes — Find shoes with a non-slip grip that offer comfortable support for your feet. Wear shoes in your home rather than socks or slippers with a slipperier sole.
  • Use an aid when walking on slippery surfaces — Install a bar or seat in your shower and use a non-skid bathmat to help prevent falling on the wet shower floor. Spread salt on the steps or sidewalks near your home to keep them from icing over in the colder months.
  • Ask your doctor about a cane or walker — Using assistive devices can help you avoid falling.

Getting Help With Osteoporosis

When your weakened bones go untreated, you may end up with fractures that cause a lot of pain, surgery, or disfigurement. However, there are a lot of treatment options that can strengthen the bones and help you avoid bad outcomes. Make an appointment with Dr. Connor to discuss whether it’s a good idea to be screened for osteoporosis, and work with your healthcare team to come up with a treatment plan if you are at risk of having bone problems.

How to Avoid Hangovers, According to Doctors and Dietitians

How to Avoid Hangovers, According to Doctors and Dietitians

In, Dr. Brynna Connor, a board-certified family medicine physician and healthcare ambassador at, notes that alcohol can sabotage your sleep quality, which can exacerbate your hangover symptoms. By the way, you may have heard the old adage “beer before liquor, never sicker” and “liquor before beer, you’re in the clear” but Connor says there isn’t really any truth to that advice.

Read the article to learn lots of useful tips for avoiding hangovers.

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Treatments for Erectile Dysfunction

Treatments for Erectile Dysfunction

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Erectile dysfunction (ED), also called impotence, is a very common sex problem. It occurs when you can’t achieve an erection or keep the erection firm enough to have sexual intercourse. Experts estimate that about one in three men experiences ED at some point in their life. This condition becomes more common with age, although it can also affect younger men.

There are many effective treatment options for ED. This condition can be successfully reversed in more than 19 out of 20 men. Which treatment options work best may depend on ED’s underlying causes, as well as your own needs and preferences.

Addressing Common Causes of ED

Erectile dysfunction is often caused by changes to your hormones, vascular system (heart and blood vessels), nervous system, or mental health. If you are experiencing ED, your doctor may want to perform a general health check-up to see whether it might be caused by another factor, such as an underlying health condition or medication.

Disorders That Could Cause ED

When ED occurs, it could be a sign that something else is going on with your health. For example, one common cause of ED is diabetes. Men with diabetes are three times more likely to develop erectile dysfunction, compared to men without diabetes. If you experience ED along with other diabetes symptoms, such as frequent urination, extreme thirst or hunger, or unexpected weight loss, tell your doctor. Diabetes can be managed with proper diet, exercise, or medication.

Erectile dysfunction may also be caused by:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Heart disease
  • Atherosclerosis (a condition in which plaque builds up in the arteries, hardening them and blocking blood flow)
  • Kidney disease
  • Peyronie’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Damage to the penis, prostate, bladder, or spinal cord

ED can also develop after certain cancer treatments. Surgery for prostate cancer or bladder cancer can cause the condition. Additionally, other prostate cancer treatments such as radiation therapy to the pelvis and androgen suppression therapy may lead to ED.

Treating an underlying disorder may help improve ED symptoms. It’s important to talk to your doctor if you start experiencing this condition.

Mental Health and ED

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Some mental disorders or emotional factors can cause erectile dysfunction or make it worse. ED can be a symptom of both anxiety and depression. Feelings of guilt, fear, or low self-esteem surrounding your sexual performance can also cause ED. Finally, men are more likely to experience ED when they are stressed or tired.

Talking to a counselor, therapist, or another mental health professional can help with all of these issues. These health providers can teach you techniques to better manage stress, reduce anxiety or depression symptoms, or reframe your attitudes surrounding sex. For some men, counseling is the most effective ED treatment.

ED as a Medication Side Effect

Medications that can lead to ED include:

If you develop ED after trying a new drug or switching medication doses, talk to your doctor. You may be able to try an alternative treatment plan that won’t cause this side effect. However, it’s important to not stop taking a drug without first talking to your doctor, as some medications shouldn’t be stopped abruptly.

Lifestyle Changes

Your daily habits and choices can sometimes create or exacerbate problems with ED. Making some or all of the following changes may help:

  • Quit smoking with the aid of nicotine products, prescription medications, or support programs
  • Reduce the amount of alcohol you consume, or quit drinking altogether
  • Stop using illicit drugs with the help of your doctor, a therapist, or an addiction treatment program
  • Get more physical activity throughout the day by going on a walk, doing some work around the house, or trying aerobic exercise or a strength training workout
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight

Oral Medications for ED

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There are several drug options that can help treat ED. They include:

  • Viagra (sildenafil)
  • Cialis (tadalafil)
  • Levitra (vardenafil)
  • Stendra (avanafil)

These medications enhance natural processes in the body that cause erections. A chemical called nitric oxide is partially responsible for erections. It relaxes muscles within the penis and widens blood vessels, boosting blood flow.

Oral (taken by mouth) ED medications strengthen nitric oxide’s natural effects. They can make it easier for you to experience erection when you are sexually aroused.

Safety of Oral ED Medications

Sildenafil, tadalafil, vardenafil, and avanafil are generally safe to take for most men. However, men with certain conditions should avoid these medications. These drugs may not be safe if you:

  • Have heart disease
  • Have experienced a stroke
  • Have been diagnosed with very low or high blood pressure
  • Have diabetes that is not controlled with diet or medication
  • Have severe liver or kidney disease
  • Take nitrates (medications to treat heart conditions) such as Nitrostat (nitroglycerin) or Imdur (isosorbide mononitrate)
  • Use anticoagulants (medications that help thin the blood), including Coumadin (warfarin), Pradaxa (dabigatran), or Xarelto (rivaroxaban)
  • Take medications for high blood pressure or prostate enlargement, including alpha blockers like Cardura (doxazosin) or Minipress (prazosin)

Oral ED medications often don’t cause any major side effects. However, some men may experience certain health changes while using these drugs, including:

  • Headache
  • Stuffy nose
  • Flushed skin on the face, neck, or chest
  • Upset stomach
  • Blurry or blue-tinged vision
  • Back pain

If you are interested in using oral ED medications, ask your doctor about possible positive and negative effects. Your doctor can also help you understand whether you can take these medications safely based on your personal health history.

Which Medication Is Best?

Each of these ED medications may lead to slightly different side effects and last for different lengths of time. For example, sildenafil and vardenafil typically last four to five hours, avanafil’s effects continue for up to six hours, and tadalafil can last for 36 hours.

Doctors often first recommend sildenafil for erectile dysfunction because this drug was developed first and it has been studied the longest. However, you may find that you prefer a different medication based on its effects or financial costs. You may need to try more than one medication or adjust your medication dose before you find something that works well for you.

Testosterone Replacement Therapy

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Testosterone is a sex hormone that plays a role in sexual development and fertility, and sexual function, including erections. The amount of testosterone in the body decreases with age, and can also drop due to changes in the brain, problems with the thyroid (a gland that makes hormones), testicular damage, or obesity. Low levels of testosterone are sometimes responsible for ED.

Low testosterone levels could also cause symptoms like:

  • Low sex drive
  • Sleeping problems
  • Low sperm count
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased muscle strength
  • Weaker bones
  • Psychological problems like depression or difficulties focusing

If your ED is caused by low testosterone levels, you may be able to try testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). This involves taking medications that contain laboratory-made testosterone in order to elevate hormone levels in the body. This medication may come in the form of a pill, patch, implant, patch, or injection.

TRT may come with some side effects, such as:

  • Infertility
  • Insomnia
  • Problems with urination
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Heart problems
  • Blood clots

TRT may interact with certain medications, and only works if ED is caused by certain factors, so talk to your doctor before trying this therapy.

Other Erectile Dysfunction Medications

A couple of other medication options besides pills may also help with ED. One option is Caverject (alprostadil), a drug that is injected into the penis. This medication encourages blood to flow into the penis, making it become erect. The injection usually leads to an erection within five to 20 minutes, and the erection typically lasts between 30 and 60 minutes.

Alprostadil can also be used as a urethral suppository — a small pellet placed into the opening of the penis with an applicator. This form of alprostadil generally causes an erection within 10 minutes and its effects also last 30 to 60 minutes.

Alprostadil can lead to side effects like bleeding or bruising at the injection site, pain or burning in the penis or surrounding tissues, headache, back pain, or vision changes. Before using alprostadil injections or suppositories, tell your doctor if you are taking blood-thinning medications or using drugs to treat high blood pressure, allergies, or a cold.

Medical Devices for Erectile Dysfunction

Another possible ED treatment is a vacuum device or penis pump. To use this device, you place a plastic tube around your penis and use a pump to draw air out, which causes more blood to flow into the area. After achieving an erection, you place a ring around the base of your penis to keep your blood, and your erection, in place.

Vacuum devices may cause bruising, or make your penis feel cold or numb. However, most men experience orgasm normally after using this device.

Surgical Procedures for ED

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The above treatment options will work for most men. However, in some cases a man may choose to try surgical ED treatments.

In one type of surgery, a doctor can implant a device into the penis. This may be an inflatable device connected to a pump in the scrotum, or a flexible rod that allows a man to move his penis into the desired position.

Some cases of ED are caused by a blocked blood vessel that prevents blood from reaching the penis. In this case, the blood vessel may be able to be fixed with surgery.

Alternative Medications and Supplements

Companies make many “natural” medicines or supplements that they say can treat ED. Some of these products may help improve sexual function, while many come with some risks.

Some studies have identified natural herbs or supplements that could possibly help ED and appear to be safe when taken at recommended doses. These include:

  • L-arginine
  • Ginseng
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
  • Propionyl-L-carnitine

Although these supplements are often labeled as “natural” and are available without a prescription, you should still tell your doctor if you choose to use them. Some of these herbs, like ginseng, are only known to be safe when men use them for the short term. Other supplements, like L-arginine, shouldn’t be combined with other ED medications like sildenafil.

Not all supplements are safe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified hundreds of supplements that contain drug ingredients not listed on the label. These supplements can sometimes cause serious health problems.

Some online retailers also claim to sell “herbal” versions of common prescription ED medications. These supplements are often not legitimate and can contain harmful substances.

In order to minimize risks, only take medications that are recommended by your doctor. It’s also a good idea to avoid products that claim to work very fast, are sold as single doses or were advertised to you through unsolicited emails.

Buying Medications Online

There are many places online where you can buy ED treatments — both supplements and prescription medications. Unfortunately, many retailers run scams or sell counterfeit treatments.

Keep yourself safe by only buying treatments from reputable pharmacies, whether online or brick-and-mortar. Some good rules to follow include:

  • Avoid buying prescription medications from places that claim a prescription is not necessary.
  • Only purchase medications from online pharmacies that list a valid phone number for contact purposes and ask to speak with licensed pharmacist to ensure there is proper medication counseling available.
  • If the online pharmacy is outside the United States, ensure it is certified by Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA) by clicking on its CIPA seal.
  • When you receive your medication in the mail, make sure that it contains the right drug and dose.

Which ED Treatment Is Best?

The therapy that is most effective for someone else may not be the one that is best for you. The ideal ED treatment plan depends on factors like what is causing your condition, how severe your ED is, and whether you have other health conditions that contribute to your ED.

Your doctor can help you understand which treatment might be best for you and the benefits and drawbacks of each option. They can also prescribe any medications that you may need. It can be pretty tough to bring up this topic with your doctor but initiating that conversation can be the key to curing your ED and improving your well-being. If you or your loved one is experiencing ED and you would like to discuss it with a doctor, please make an appointment with Dr. Connor.

Can CBD Relieve Menopause Symptoms?

Can CBD Relieve Menopause Symptoms?

In an article in Giddy, Dr. Connor explains that although menopause is a natural part of life, the symptoms often cause women to seek treatment. Read this entire article to find out how CBD oil works in the body and if it can be beneficial toward eleviating menopausal symptoms. If you are being impacted by menopausal symptoms and would like to discuss this further with Dr. Connor, please make an appointment

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Sunscreen, Skin Cancer, and Staying Safe: Does Sunscreen Really Help Prevent Cancer?

Sunscreen, Skin Cancer, and Staying Safe: Does Sunscreen Really Help Prevent Cancer?

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Spending time in the sun can be great for your health. A little bit of sunlight encourages your body to make vitamin D, which is important for bone health, nerve and muscle function, and immune health. Too little vitamin D can lead to weakened bones and may be linked to conditions like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Being outside can also lower stress levels and boost mental health.

However, the sun can also harm your skin if you’re not careful. Sunlight can damage skin cells, leading to signs of premature aging such as wrinkles, an uneven skin color, and a leathery appearance. Too much sun can also lead to eye diseases. Importantly, sun exposure is also the main cause of skin cancer. Therefore, it’s important to keep yourself safe when you’re outdoors.

Skin Cancer: The Basics

Skin cancer develops when skin cells become damaged and begin growing too quickly. If left untreated, cancer cells can move from the skin to other parts of the body.

About one in five people in the U.S. will develop skin cancer at some point in their life. It is the most common type of cancer for people living in the U.S.

There are a couple of different types of skin cancer. The two most common types are basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). The more sun you get throughout the course of your life, the higher your risk of developing BCC and SCC. Another type of skin cancer, melanoma, is rare but is more aggressive and harder to treat. The more sunburns you received in your teenage years, the higher your chances of being diagnosed with melanoma.

The Causes and Risk Factors of Cancer

Cancer develops when a cell’s genes — sets of instructions that tell the cell what to do — become changed or mutated. This causes the cell to begin dividing out of control, forming many new cells that make a tumor.Skin cancer is primarily caused by sunlight, which contains ultraviolet (UV) rays that harm skin cells. There are two main types of UV rays that play a role in skin cancer. UV-A rays can infiltrate into deeper layers of the skin, where they form free radicals (tiny molecules that can damage many parts of the cell, including the cell’s genes). UV-B rays mainly stay in the outermost layer of skin and cause changes in DNA, the material that makes up genes.

Certain risk factors can increase your chances of developing skin cancer. These include:

  • Spending a lot of time in the sun or in tanning beds
  • Experiencing several sunburns at a young age
  • Having light skin that doesn’t tan
  • Having blond or red hair, or light-colored eyes
  • A history of being diagnosed with unusual moles
  • A history of conditions that lead to ongoing skin inflammation or a weakened immune system
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • Undergoing radiation treatments
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, including solvents, vinyl chloride, or arsenic

People without these risk factors can still develop skin cancer. However, skin cancer is more common in people with these features.

Can Sunscreen Protect You From Cancer?

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Many experts recommend sunscreen as a way to reduce the harm caused by sunlight. Sunscreens contain a variety of ingredients that can absorb and block UV-A or UV-B rays.

What Does the Research Say?

Studies have mostly found that using sunscreen can decrease skin cancer rates.

In particular, one large clinical trial conducted in Australia instructed some of the study participants to apply sunscreen every day, while the rest of the participants were free to decide when they put on sunscreen. After 4.5 years, the people who used daily sunscreen were 40% less likely to have SCC, the second most common skin cancer type.

After 15 years, the researchers followed up with the study participants and found that they were also less likely to experience melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer. Other, smaller studies have also found that using sunscreen can reduce rates of SCC and of actinic keratosis, a condition that can develop into skin cancer.

Interestingly, this clinical trial did not find that sunscreen helped protect against BCC — people who used daily sunscreen and people who did not developed this skin cancer at similar rates. Experts speculate that this may be because BCCs take a very long time to develop. Longer studies are needed in order to determine whether sunscreen can prevent BCC.

Research has also found that sunscreen can help prevent wrinkles, uneven skin coloration, and spider veins (small blood vessels that appear close to the skin’s surface, leading to reddish lines on the skin).

Overall, experts such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Dermatologists (AAD) recommend using sunscreen when spending time in the sun.

Who Should Use Sunscreen?

Everyone should put on sunscreen before going outside. Even people without skin cancer risk factors can develop the condition, so sunscreen can help all people, regardless of their age, race, and other factors.

However, experts recommend not applying sunscreen to infants younger than six months. These children may be more likely to experience a skin rash or other side effects. Instead, keep your newborn in the shade, dress them in clothing and hats that cover their skin, and make sure they stay well-hydrated with formula or milk.

Sunscreen should be worn every day for the best protection. UV rays can pass through clouds, so you can still experience sun damage even if it’s not a sunny day. Additionally, you are still exposed to UV light during the daytime even when it’s cold outside.

What SPF Should You Use?

Sunscreens are rated based on their sun protection factor (SPF). The SPF measures how much UV light the sunscreen protects against. The higher the SPF, the more you are protected.

The CDC recommends using at least SPF 15 sunscreen, while AAD recommends SPF 30. Some experts believe that higher SPF ratings may be more helpful, because people often don’t apply enough sunscreen. For example, if you are using SPF 30 sunscreen and only apply half the recommended amount, you may only be getting the equivalent of SPF 15 protection.

The CDC and AAD also suggest making sure your sunscreen protects against both UV-A and UV-B rays. It also helps to use sunscreen that is water resistant if you’re planning on swimming or think you may end up sweating a lot.

Tips for Applying Sunscreen

Make sure you’re putting on enough sunscreen. Experts recommend using an ounce of sunscreen over your entire body. This is enough sunscreen to fill one shot glass. Make sure to cover all of your skin, including your ears, the tops of your feet, and — if you have short hair — your scalp. Additionally, use lip balm with an SPF of at least 30 to protect the skin of your lips.

Sunscreen works best when it is applied at least 15 minutes before you go outside. Reapply every couple of hours, or after you swim, towel off, or sweat.

Is Sunscreen Safe to Use?

Sunscreen can occasionally lead to reactions such as stinging, burning, or a rash. They may also clog the pores. In some cases, people may be allergic to certain sunscreen ingredients, but this is rare.

Some people worry that certain sunscreen ingredients may not be safe if they are absorbed into the bloodstream. In particular, there has been concern about two common ingredients — oxybenzone (BP-3) and octinoxate (OMC). So far, studies have not found any strong links between these ingredients and health problems, although researchers are continuing to look into this area.

It is important to note that sunscreens containing BP-3 or OMC have been banned in Hawaii and in Key West, Florida. This is because these ingredients may harm coral reefs and negatively impact plants and animals that live in the water. Avoiding sunscreens with these ingredients may be better for the environment.

Beyond Sunscreen: Keep Yourself Safe From the Sun

There are also other strategies that you can use along with sunscreen to make sure you’re staying safe. The more approaches you take, the more you can keep your skin healthy and reduce your risk of skin cancer.

Other Ways to Protect Your Skin

If you want to stay safe, you may also want to try:

  • Avoiding sunlight during the hottest part of the day — The sun gives off more harmful UV rays from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so limit your time outside during these hours.
  • Staying in the shade — Spend time under a tree, tent, or umbrella in order to reduce the amount of UV light coming into contact with your skin. It’s still a good idea to wear sunscreen in the shade, however.
  • Wearing protective clothing and hats — Long pants and long-sleeved shirts made from tightly-woven fabric can help keep the sun off of your skin. You can also buy rash guards or swim cover-ups that can provide UV protection while at the beach or pool. A hat with a brim can also protect your face, neck, and scalp from sunburn.
  • Using sunglasses — Look for sunglasses that offer protection against UV-A and UV-B rays, which can keep the skin around your eyes safe and help lower your chances of developing eye problems like cataracts.
  • Avoiding tanning machines — Indoor tanning using tanning beds or booths also exposes you to UV rays and can lead to premature aging and skin cancer.

Sunlight helps your body produce vitamin D, so blocking the sun from reaching your skin may mean that your body makes less of this nutrient. If you are careful about protecting yourself from the sun, you may want to consider getting vitamin D from a supplement or multivitamin, or eating foods such as dairy products that have been fortified with this vitamin.

Ask Your Doctor About Skin Cancer Screening

skin cancer screening is an exam in which you, a doctor, or a nurse checks the skin all over your body for signs of cancer, including moles or marks that have an unusual size or color. Screening may help you find skin cancer early, which could lead to a better outcome.

You may want to ask your doctor if they recommend that you undergo skin cancer screening. It may be a good idea for people with skin cancer risk factors.

You can also perform your own screening at home. Check all of your skin, including near your genitals, under your breasts, on your scalp, between your fingers and toes, and underneath your nails. You will need a mirror in order to properly check some areas. Talk to your doctor if you notice any new bumps, sores that don’t heal, or moles that are irregularly-shaped, painful, oozing, or bleeding.

Know the Signs of Skin Cancer

If you spend a lot of time in the sun, or you have a history of sun exposure, it helps to know skin cancer symptoms so you know what to watch out for.

When looking for signs of skin cancer, think “ABCDE“:

  • Asymmetrical — The spot is oddly-shaped rather than being circular and has two halves that look different
  • Border — The outside edge of the spot is jagged or uneven
  • Color — The mole or spot has several different colors inside
  • Diameter — The spot is bigger than a pea
  • Evolving — The mole or spot’s appearance has changed

Conclusion: Sunscreen and Skin Cancer

Research clearly shows that regularly using sunscreen can reduce your chances of being diagnosed with skin cancer. It can also help prevent signs of premature aging. However, it is not the only thing that can help protect you from the sun’s UV rays — using other strategies like wearing protective clothing and staying in the shade can all play a role in keeping you safe and healthy. If you would like a skin-check, please make an appointment with Dr. Connor.

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