28 Mar Skin Cancer Myths
There are many misconceptions and myths about skin cancer. We’re going to debunk a few of them right here.
Incidence rates of skin cancer have been increasing over the past decades. Today, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer. The situation will worsen as the ozone levels are depleted and more solar UV radiation reaches the earth. However, since the primary cause of skin cancer continues to be recreational exposure to the sun and resultant sunburn, we can lessen our chances of developing the disease. We have the responsibility of protecting ourselves from the damaging rays of the sun and being knowledgeable about skin cancer.
Myth #1: Skin Cancer is not deadly
So not true! Firstly, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. Secondly, and more to the point, approximately 9,500 people are diagnosed every day and more than 2 people die of skin cancer every hour (Cancer Facts and Figures 2019). It is important to be able to differentiate among the types of cancer.
• Basal cell carcinoma is most common, but it grows slowly and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. However, if not treated, it can cause damage and disfigurement by invading surrounding tissue and growing into the nerves and bones.
• Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type. It also grows slowly, but if left untreated, it is more likely than basal cell to grow into deeper layers of skin and can spread to other body areas.
• Merkel cell carcinoma is very rare, but it kills, on average, 700 people a year. It is aggressive, growing fast and spreading quickly to other parts of the body. It needs to be detected and treated in its early stages.
• Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It is less common than basal cell and squamous, and more dangerous due to its ability to spread rapidly and more likely to spread to the lymph nodes or metastasize to other parts of the body. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial.
Myth #2: People with dark skin don’t get skin cancer
Dangerously untrue! People with dark skin have a lower risk for skin cancer than light-skinned people, but they are certainly not immune to it. In fact, the death rates are higher, because it is diagnosed later when it is more advanced. Dark-skinned people do not get checked as often because of this misconception. Also, diagnosis is delayed because they tend to get skin cancer in unexpected places, such as on their nails, hands and feet. Because of this, both they and their doctors do not immediately suspect skin cancer.
Myth #3: People who tan easily do not get cancer
Tanning greatly increases your risk of developing skin cancer. An increase in the skin pigment, melanin, which you see as a tan, is a sign of damage. The more you tan, the more melanin is being produced to try to protect your skin from further damage, the darker the tan. And on and on. Every time your skin color changes due to exposure to the sun, the greater your risk of developing skin cancer.
Skin Cancer Myth #4: Children don’t it
Granted, skin cancer is not common in children. At the present time in the U.S, there are about 300-420 new cases each year. Skin cancer accounts for 3% of all pediatric cancers. As with adults, children with light skin are at a higher risk. A history of sunburns makes a child more susceptible, as does a family history of melanoma. Treating early-stage melanoma is usually successful.
A concern is that the younger a child is exposed to the sun, the higher the risk getting skin cancer later in life, particularly if the child has had blistering sunburns.
Myth #5: A tanning bed is safer than UV rays from the sun
Tanning beds are worse! They use unnatural levels of UV light that you are not exposed to in nature. The UVA radiation can be up to four times higher than that of the sun at noon. The UVB radiation almost twice at high. Use of a tanning bed before the age of 35 increases the risk for melanoma by 75%.
If you are high risk, you should have a full body skin examination at least once a year. If you see a new or changing spot, consult your dermatologist right away. Early detection gives you the best chance for a cure with the most minimal treatment.
At Eternal Dermatology, our lead physician is a top skin cancer specialist in the Columbia MD area.