8 Skin Cancer Misconceptions


Hedy Marks, MPH

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10 Reasons to See a Dermatologist

Regular checkups for skin cancer can save your life. These 10 conditions merit a visit to the dermatologist.
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Skin cancer is often viewed as a less scary form of cancer since most people with the disease are successfully treated and suffer few, if any, long-term complications. But skin cancer can be a serious disease with very serious consequences.Test your skin cancer knowledge and learn the truth about skin cancer.

1. True or False: Skin cancer is not life threatening.

While it's true that most skin cancer can be treated easily, some kinds of skin cancer can be fatal. More than 10,000 people die from skin cancer every year in the United States. Most deaths are from melanoma skin cancer.

2. True or False: Only white people get skin cancer.

False. Skin cancer doesn't discriminate. Anyone can get skin cancer. Although people with lighter skin are at increased risk, skin cancer can turn up on those with darker skin too, including African Americans, Native Americans, and people of Asian and Hispanic descent. 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.

3. True or False: You only have to worry about funny-looking moles.

False. It's true that an abnormal-looking mole can be a sign of skin cancer, but there are other symptoms of skin cancer, too including:

  • 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.

4. True or False: Tanning salons are a safe tanning alternative.

False. Tanning beds and sunlamps still expose your skin to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, the main risk factor for skin cancer. Tanning beds may be even more dangerous than natural sunlight since the radiation used in the machines can be stronger, and there are no substances (like ozone in the atmosphere) to act as a filter. 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.

5. True or False: You don’t have to worry about sunscreen on cloudy days.

False. Up to 80% of the sun's dangerous rays can pass through clouds, so even on a cloudy day you can be burned. UV radiation from the sun can even pass through car windows and lightweight clothing. So, make sure you apply sunscreen and protect yourself no matter what the weather conditions.

6. True or False: All sunscreen works the same.

False. Some sunscreens protect against skin cancer better. When choosing a sunscreen lotion or spray, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that filters both UVB and UVA radiation (different types of light that damage skin) and has an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15. Also, remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours throughout the day, and more often if you are sweating or swimming.

7. True or False: A tan can protect you from skin cancer.

False. A tan may lower your risk of sunburn, but not your risk of skin cancer. A suntan is a sign of skin damage—it's your skin's attempt to repair sun damage and protect itself from future injury. During this process, problems can occur at the cellular level and skin cancer can develop.

8. True or False: You can repair past sun damage.

True. It is never too late to start protecting your skin. While there is no guarantee that you can totally reverse the effects of past sun damage, you can give your skin time to heal by taking steps to prevent further skin damage. Start by always wearing a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, even in the winter and on cloudy days. To find out if you have sun damage and steps you can take to correct it, contact a dermatologist.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jun 20, 2017

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Medical References

  1. National Cancer Institute. Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/skin.pdf
  2. Skin Cancer Foundation. Skin Cancer Facts. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts
  3. Skin Cancer Foundation. Skin Cancer and Skin of Color. http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/skin-cancer-and-skin-of-color
  4. Skin Cancer Foundation. Skin Cancer Myths vs. Facts. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts/myths-vs-facts
  5. Texas Oncology. Skin Cancer Myths and Facts. http://www.texasoncology.com/media-center/fact-sheets/skin-cancer-myths.asp
  6. Skin Cancer Foundation. Repair (and even Reverse) Signs of Sun Damage. http://www.skincancer.org/healthy-lifestyle/anti-aging/repair-and-even-reverse-signs-of-sun-damage
  7. American Academy of Dermatology. Skin Cancer. http://www.aad.org/skin-conditions/dermatology-a-to-z/skin-cancer

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