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Dr. Michelle Hure

By Dr. Michelle Hure

Skin Cancer Awareness Month is wrapping up but that doesn’t mean we should just forget about the realities of skin cancer for the rest of the year. It’s no surprise that the largest organ of the body accounts for the highest number of cancer cases worldwide. At least two people die of skin cancer in the US every hour, and one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. Now that these eye-opening statistics have gotten your attention, let’s bust some myths about skin cancer, who gets it and how to protect yourself.

In my practice, I’ve heard all the myths. Everything from base tans are protective and sunscreen causes cancer, to 15 minutes of sun is needed every day to get your Vitamin D and skin cancer is nothing to worry about. It’s always an uphill battle trying to dispel these dangerous myths with real science when most people trust Dr. Google and the random TikToker/Youtuber more than actual board-certified physicians who have devoted their lives to the field. But my parents didn’t raise no quitter!

Skin cancer affects everyone. EVERYONE. No matter your age, sex or skin type, you are at risk. I’ve diagnosed skin cancer in everyone from newborns to centenarians, so no one is immune. The most common skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). These cancers are almost entirely caused by UV radiation. With our beautiful climate, ocean and year-round sun, people in California are particularly susceptible. Treatment is usually surgical removal, which can be disfiguring if the skin cancer isn’t caught early. While many times these types of cancer are removed and don’t affect survival, it is not entirely uncommon for patients to die from metastatic disease when the head and neck are affected.

A skin cancer that can definitely affect your survival is melanoma—but it doesn’t have to. If melanoma is caught early, the five-year survival rate is 99%. While melanoma is likely to be caused by UV radiation, it’s not always. The cells that turn into a melanoma (melanocytes) are also found in normal skin and moles, the eye, brain, inner ear, GI tract and genitals. That means that even without the genital tanning that is all the rage now (no joke), melanoma can arise in those locations. Obviously, we can’t take a good look at all those places easily but getting regular skin, eye and genital exams are a must. Tanning was thought to be protective in the past to give a “base tan” as melanin pigment, made by melanocytes, is protective to the upper layer of skin. Unfortunately, we now know that just one tanning bed session or five sunburns doubles your risk of melanoma. The “base tan” myth has likely accounted for so many melanomas, BCCs, SCCs and photoaging (wrinkles, “sun spots”, loss of skin elasticity).

So how to protect yourself from skin cancer? Simple. Be sun smart. That means use sunscreen with an SPF greater than 30 (no, it’s not all the same and the higher the better) every day, reapply your sunscreen at least every two hours (if not sooner), wear sun protective clothing with a tight weave or designated as UPF 50, wear big sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, and seek the shade—especially during peak sun hours of 11 a.m.-3 p.m.  Don’t trust the “chemical” sunscreens, even though there are no studies showing they are harmful to humans? Just use the mineral-based sunscreens instead. You say you never leave the house and don’t need sunscreen? Well, it’s all the incremental, small UV exposures of driving, walking to the mailbox, etc., that add up. Worried you aren’t getting enough Vitamin D unless you bake in the sun every day? Chances are you can sit out for hours and still be deficient. Take a Vitamin D supplement (coupled with magnesium to help with absorption) and give your skin a break.

Dr. Hure is a double board-certified physician practicing medical, surgical, cosmetic dermatology and dermatopathology at Orange County SkinLab, her award-winning solo private practice clinic near the Los Rios District. She is a native Californian and proud to call San Juan Capistrano home, along with her two young daughters and husband.

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comments (2)

  • Thank you thank you thank you Dr. Hure!
    When you stepped up and were a great resource for those attending Coffee Chat regarding myths vs. facts about Covid over the first 2 years of lockdown, you revealed how critical local community engagement is, how invaluable seriously blunt but necessary news should be delivered.
    I’m sure that was an integral part in the honorarium plaque that then Mayor John Taylor presented you with at a City Council hearing last December, if memory serves as Businessperson of the Year?
    Full disclosure, you’ve been my skin care physician the past few years—-My skin having been abused for decades, it being an ignored personal issue that I’d avoided fully addressing.out of fear.
    My previous primary (who I won’t name) was a GP, not very vigilant or proactive. As I discovered, I needed a dermatopathologist with your heightened skill level to properly diagnose and then if necessary treat topically or excise tissue preemptively, that eventually would morph into full blown melanoma.
    Which probably also explains and sustains your rating by other doctors in the OC as Numero Uno in your field.
    At 75, I’m a pretty grumpy old man, and YOUR patience has been stellar while treating THIS patient! Marines like myself appreciate “straight scoop.”
    The bad news for environmental scofflaws is that I’m not checking out any time soon, in part due to Dr. Hure’s no-nonsense demeanor and objectively clinical approach.
    It can’t be easy in her practice, I’m sure there must be times when she’s got to deliver some very distressing news to patients and their families—–including the divulging of life-threatening and even probable terminal ramifications.
    Once again, in this guest column, you stand and deliver!

  • Dr. Hure… great article! Valuable information to help prevent skin cancer. Nice to see it displayed in a prominent spot on the Dispatch.

    I have been a patient of Dr. Hure’s about 3 years. She is extremely knowledgeable, most professional, and highly skilled. She is a valuable asset to the San Juan Capistrano community.

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