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Ongoing Skin Cancer Research And How It Informs Us About The Disease And Its Treatment

Mar 29, 2017 10:30:00 AM / by Mr. Fuan Chan

While skin cancer is a problem across the world, it undoubtedly a very big issue here in our corner of Europe. The typically pale skin tones combined with a climate that doesn’t really encourage the use of sun protection but still poses the same UV threat every day, result in very high incidences of melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.


Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer here in Ireland and in recent years, research has indicated that Irish people actually tend to suffer from a different kind of skin cancer than people in other countries. A cancer specialist, Professor John Crown of the National Cancer Research Centre of Ireland, and his colleagues, studied the genes of Irish people who develop malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. Through their research they discovered the percentage of Irish patients that have a faulty gene called B-RAF is lower than in other countries.

This information is being used to help with more effective treatments of malignant melanoma, which is great news. A relatively new molecular treatment works on this form of cancer while there are other immunotherapy treatments that may work better on people who don’t have the faulty gene.

While malignant melanoma is the least common of the three main forms of skin cancers – the others being basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma - it is the most dangerous and it is becoming more common here in Ireland too. However, if it’s diagnosed early it can be treated with favourable outcomes, by having the cancer removed.

Malignant melanoma is much more difficult to treat if it has spread to other areas, which is why checking your skin regularly and monitoring any moles or marks for unusual changes is so important.

Another interesting area of research is into the so-called ‘ginger gene’. Skin cancer is common in Ireland and you might think that is down to the typically pale Celtic skin type (which is indeed very susceptible to developing skin cancer) but research has shown that red hair and freckles are directly linked to a skin cancer risk.

This ‘ginger gene’ can significantly increase a person’s risk of developing the disease. The inherited gene is a variant of the MC1R gene and scientists believe having it is the equivalent of about 20 extra years of sun exposure. It turns out that the variant affects the type of melanin pigment people produce in their skin, which leaves those with it more vulnerable and likely to experience the negative effects of UV rays.

The sun’s UV rays are responsible for most instances of skin cancer as they penetrate into the dermis and damage cells. It is thought that the skin pigment in people with red hair allows more UV to penetrate their DNA.

All this genetic-based research into skin cancers is helping to improve the ways we can treat the disease. It is helping scientists and doctors to better understand how skin and DNA are affected by UV rays and other factors, and will in time hopefully lead to better treatments.

From a day-to-day perspective, it is a reminder for everyone to pay attention to skin health and sun safety and to stay sun smart. To help minimise your risk of developing skin cancer, use SPF every day. For casual sun exposure year round, an SPF15 is sufficient for the Irish climate. Make it part of your everyday routine, and make sure to cover all exposed areas, from the face and neck to arms and hands etc.

In summer or hotter climates, upgrade your protection to SPF30 and try to stay out of the sun when it’s at its hottest (11am to 3pm). Perform self checks on your skin regularly at home, or have moles checked by a skin professional. If you spot any unusual marks or changes on your skin, have them looked at by a doctor. Early detection is one of our best defenses against skin cancer so if you’re concerned, get it checked.

If you are worried about your skin or that of a loved one, arrange a consultation with me at my clinic, and to stay informed about how best to prevent the sun from damaging your skin, download our free guide to sun protection:

Download Mr Chan's Guide to Proper Sunscreen Use

Mr. Fuan Chan

Written by Mr. Fuan Chan

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