More than 4 million cases of basal cell carcinoma (the most common form of skin cancer) are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. In Texas, the odds of getting skin cancer are increased. One in three Texans will develop some form of skin cancer. Texas ranks third in the nation for malignant melanoma, the deadliest of all skin cancers.
Skin cancer is often thought of as a less scary form of cancer since most people with the disease are successfully treated. But skin cancer can be a serious disease with very serious consequences. There are many myths. How many of them have you heard and believed? Here we separate the myths from facts.
Myth: Tanning beds are safer than tanning outdoors
Fact: Tanning beds are a known carcinogen. Just one indoor UV tanning session increases your chances of developing melanoma by 20 percent, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk almost another two percent. One cancer research group puts UV tanning devices in the same group with cigarettes and solar UV radiation as some of the most dangerous cancer-causing substances.
Myth: Suspicious moles can always be cut off before turning cancerous
Fact: Sometimes, what seems to be a chronic sore or a mole that has changed in size or color is actually more serious by the time those changes have occurred. They could be precursors to skin cancer.
Myth: People with many moles are the only ones at higher risk of skin cancer
Fact: Nobody is exempt. Everyone needs to be on guard for any changes in individual moles or skin spots.
Myth: People of color aren’t at risk of skin cancer
Fact: Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can get skin cancer. Naturally dark people have a lower risk of skin cancer than fair-skinned people, but they are not immune to the disease. If they experience overexposure to the sun, malignancies can develop. People of color are frequently diagnosed at later stages and are less likely to survive.
In fact, skin cancer is what took the life of famed reggae singer Bob Marley when he was just 36 years old: What was thought to be a soccer injury under his toenail was actually melanoma.
Myth: Skin cancer only develops in areas that have had too much sun exposure
Fact: While skin cancer does most often occur in areas that are frequently exposed to direct sunlight, it can also develop in areas that are usually covered.
Myth: Only people who spend time in the sun and don’t use sunscreen can get skin cancer
Fact: Even though limiting sun exposure can reduce the risk of skin cancer, it isn’t simply reduced to zero. Family history and genetics play a role.
Myth: Skin cancer only affects older people, not teenagers and young people
Fact: Melanoma is the most common form of cancer in people who are 25 to 29 years of age. Early diagnosis results in a cure, while delayed diagnosis may be deadly.
Myth: UVB radiation is a good source of vitamin D
Fact: We can produce only a limited amount of vitamin D from UVB radiation. For Caucasians, that limit is reached after just five to 10 minutes of midday sun exposure.
Myth: It isn’t possible to get sun damage on a cloudy day
Fact: Up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can pass through clouds, so even on a cloudy day you can be burned. UV radiation can even pass through car windows and lightweight clothing. Apply sunscreen and protect yourself no matter what the weather conditions.
Myth: “Base tans” are healthy and shield the skin from sun damage
Fact: A base tan may delay sunburn, but it doesn’t prevent damage from ultraviolet radiation.
Myth: You only have to worry about funny-looking moles
Fact: An abnormal-looking mole can be a sign of skin cancer, but there are other symptoms:
- A lump or growth that is small, smooth, shiny, pale or waxy
- A lump or growth that is firm and red
- A growth that bleeds or develops a crust or scab
- A red or brown spot or patch of skin that is rough, dry, scaly or itchy
To be safe, any new, changing, growing, bleeding or itching skin growths should be checked out by your doctor, including suspicious moles.
Myth: All sunscreen works the same
Fact: Some sunscreens protect against skin cancer better. When choosing, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that filters both UVB and UVA radiation and has an SPF of at least 15. Reapply your sunscreen every two hours throughout the day, and more often if you are sweating or swimming.
Myth: You can repair past sun damage
Fact: It is never too late to start protecting your skin. While there is no guarantee you can totally reverse the effects of past sun damage, you can give your skin time to heal by taking steps to prevent further damage. Start by wearing a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, every day; avoid tanning beds and sun lamps; cover up with clothing including wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses; check your skin regularly; and visit a dermatologist for an annual full body check.
*Information in this article was gathered from the American Cancer Society, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, the Skin Cancer Foundation, the U.S. News & World Report, and the Texas Medical Association.