Cosmetic Quarterly: Skin Cancer Awareness Month

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month! Learn from Dr. Mackenzie Gwynne about how to keep your skin in tip-top shape going into summer for this issue of Cosmetic Quarterly.

1. What actually is skin cancer? What happens to the skin to develop cancer?
Skin cancer occurs when skin cells grow abnormally. This abnormal growth is usually caused by the UV rays from the sun which cause mutations in the DNA of our skin cells. These mutations in turn allow the cells to grow atypically and become cancerous. The type of skin cancer (i.e. basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, etc.) is determined by what cell is growing atypically. For example, if the cancer begins in skin cells called basal cells then basal cell carcinoma develops.

2. Are there any new developments in skin cancer patients or Charleston residents should be aware of?
There are many new developments in understanding and treating skin cancer. For example, like with most fields of medicine, dermatology, has made advancements in genetic testing. There is now genetic testing available for individuals that may be a greater risk for melanoma given their family history. Furthermore, there is genetic testing available to determine the genetic profile of the skin cancer itself. These tests when used in appropriate setting serve to help dermatologists predict who is at the most risk for skin cancer and how some skin cancer should be treated with regards to its particular genetic profile.

3. In addition to sunscreen, wearing layers and seeking shade, how else can people in Charleston ensure proper protection? 
Say no to tanning beds! Tanning beds increase an individual’s risk of skin cancer dramatically. There have been studies that have shown that just one indoor tanning session can increase the risk of developing skin cancer (melanoma by 20%, squamous cell carcinoma by 67%, and basal cell carcinoma by 29%).

4. How at-risk are residents of the Lowcountry?
Everyone is at risk for skin cancer. Cancers of the skin (most of which are basal and squamous cell skin cancers) are the most common of all types of cancer. Furthermore, melanoma is a deadly type of skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 106,110 new cases of melanoma diagnosed in the US in the year 2021. There are certain risk factors that dermatologists look for to determine which patients may be at more of a risk. These factors are the following: fair skin types, 50+ moles or atypical moles, suppressed immune system, being 50 years or older, and getting 5 or more blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20.

5. What are your recommended sunscreen and skin protecting products? 
I recommend broad-spectrum sunscreen which means sunscreen has both UVA and UVB protection. The
American Academy of Dermatology recommends SPF >30 or higher and to reapply every two hours if you are outside or swimming/ sweating. Remember, your skin is exposed to harmful UV rays even on cloudy days as well, so it’s important to apply sunscreen on a daily basis. The zinc and titanium oxide sunscreen are thought to be superior because these are mineral based and act as a physical barrier between the skin and the sun. To check to make sure you have a zinc or titanium oxide sunscreen, check the label ingredients on the back of the sunscreen. There are now great options for sun protective clothing as well. I recommend looking for the ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) on labels for more protective gear.

Do you have questions about your skin or concerns about skin cancer? Be sure to give us a call or book an appointment online!

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Charleston Dermatology