9 Common Skin Cancer Myths...Busted!
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so what better time than now to debunk common myths associated with it? As the most common type of cancer, it’s no surprise that misinformation is floating around. Ahead, we lay out skin cancer facts and debunk nine falsities.
Did you know that over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined? Or that one person dies of melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—nearly every hour? These facts from The Skin Cancer Foundation are proof that skin cancer is serious business, and it is time we start treating it as such; there’s simply no room for false information or underestimates. Ahead, we’re debunking nine common skin cancer myths.
MYTH #1: SKIN CANCERS AREN’T DEADLY.
As the statistic above states, unfortunately, skin cancer can be deadly. Melanoma, which accounts for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths, is almost always curable when found in very early stages, according to the American Cancer Society. However, it can grow and spread to other parts of the body, making it difficult to treat. Because of this, melanoma accounts for more than 10,000 of the more than 13,650 skin cancer deaths each year. Make an appointment with your dermatologist for a full-body skin check at least once a year and each month take note of any new moles or changes in existing moles at home. If you spot anything suspicious, see a doctor or dermatologist.
MYTH #2: SKIN CANCER ONLY AFFECTS OLDER ADULTS.
Don’t believe this myth for a second. Melanoma is the most common form of cancer in young adults aged 25 to 29, and is more frequent in women ages 15 to 29 than in men of the same age group, according to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS). As advised earlier, check your skin monthly and pay close attention to moles—especially ones that have changed in appearance, are bleeding, or itch—as well as spots and sores that do not heal.
MYTH #3: I’M NOT AT RISK FOR SKIN CANCER SINCE I DON’T PARTAKE IN OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES.
False! According to the ASDS even brief exposure to damaging UV rays throughout the year—think: driving with the sunroof open or walking around outdoor shopping malls during peak sun hours—can lead to significant damage for people with fair skin. These everyday exposures are linked to squamous cell cancer, which, though not as dangerous as melanoma, is believed to cause up to 20 percent of skin cancer-related deaths.
MYTH #4: PEOPLE WHO TAN WITHOUT BURNING WILL NOT GET SKIN CANCER.
There’s no such thing as a healthy sun tan. You’d be hard pressed to find a derm that is an advocate of sunbathing, since any change in your natural skin color is a sign of skin damage. According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, the increase in skin pigment called melanin—what causes your skin to tan—occurs when the skin is exposed to UV radiation (from the sun or tanning beds) and is a sign of damage. Evidence suggests, they say, that tanning greatly increases your risk of developing skin cancer. Wear broad-spectrum sunscreen every day to protect your skin. Make sure to reapply often, wear protective clothing, and seek shade during peak sun hours to be extra cautious.
MYTH #5: DARK-SKINNED INDIVIDUALS DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT SKIN CANCER.
This is simply untrue. Naturally dark-skinned people have a lower risk of skin cancer compared to fair-toned individuals, but they are certainly not immune to skin cancer, says the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. What’s more, since some patients falsely believe dark-skinned individuals are immune to skin cancer, diagnosis is often delayed, which can be potentially fatal if the disease has advanced too far. Everyone must take the necessary precautions to protect their skin from exposure to the sun and subsequent UV damage, as well as self-check and make sure a doctor performs an annual skin cancer screening for any abnormalities.
MYTH #6: TANNING BEDS ARE A HEALTHY OPTION FOR BOOSTING VITAMIN D LEVELS.
Vitamin D is received through exposure to UVB rays and the bulbs used in tanning beds typically only use UVA rays. What’s more, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, tanning beds are a known carcinogen. One single indoor tanning bed session can increase your chances of developing melanoma by 20 percent, and each session during the same year can boost the risk almost another two percent.
MYTH 7: MY DOCTOR CAN ALWAYS REMOVE MY UNUSUAL-LOOKING MOLE BEFORE IT TURNS CANCEROUS.
Don’t wrongly assume that your doctor can remove your mole before it turns cancerous. Without yearly skin checks, you may already be at risk without even knowing it—especially if you don’t pass the ABCDE self-test. In this case it is crucial to seek a doctor or licensed skin expert as soon as possible. A mole that has changed in size and color could potentially be an early sign of skin cancer.
MYTH #8: WINTERS ARE LONG WHERE I’M FROM, SO I’M NOT AT RISK.
False! The sun’s intensity may be lower in the winter, but as soon as it snows you’ve increased your risk of sun damage. Snow reflects the damaging rays of the sun which can increase your risk of getting a sunburn.
MYTH #9: ONLY UVB RAYS CAUSE SUN DAMAGE.
This is untrue. Both UVA and UVB can cause sunburns and other forms of sun damage that could potentially lead to skin cancer. You’ll want to look for a sunscreen that can provide protection against both––look for the word “broad-spectrum” on the label.
Editor’s note: Signs of skin cancer aren’t completely obvious to spot. This is why the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone practice head-to-toe self-examination in addition to getting yearly check-ups to ensure all moles and birthmarks are in good condition. In addition to scanning the skin on your face, chest, arms and legs, don’t forget to look over these unlikely places.