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Here’s the Surprising Truth Behind These 13 Myths about Melanoma

It’s important to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. That’s because sun exposure can cause skin cancer, including melanoma—the most dangerous type of skin cancer.

With melanoma, cancer cells grow on your skin, either in a new area or on or around an existing mole. When you spot these skin cancers and seek care quickly, they are highly treatable. But untreated, they can spread to the lymph nodes and internal organs and can lead to death.

There are a lot of misconceptions about this type of skin cancer. Fade Mahmoud, MD, a hematology oncologist at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center at Banner Gateway Medical Center, debunks 13 of them.

1. Myth: Skin cancer isn’t dangerous

Fact: While some types of skin cancers are highly treatable and have high survival rates, melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), melanoma diagnosis rates have risen rapidly over the last few decades, and it estimates that 7,650 people will die from it in 2022. Therefore, seeing a doctor for anything out of the ordinary is important.

2. Myth: Melanoma is rare and only affects older people

Fact: The ACS predicts that almost 100,000 people will be diagnosed with this form of skin cancer in 2022. They will join the more than 1 million people living with it. And while it’s true that many of those people are older, younger people aren’t immune. “It’s one of the most common cancers in young adults, especially young women,” Dr. Mahmoud said.

3. Myth: People with darker skin don’t get melanoma

Fact: “Melanoma does not discriminate,” Dr. Mahmoud said. People with fair skin and lighter eye color are indeed at higher risk for this type of skin cancer. But it strikes people of all races and skin colors. And people with darker skin are more often diagnosed at a later stage of the disease (after it has spread). Thus, they are less likely to survive it than people with lighter skin.

4. Myth: Melanoma only strikes the skin

Fact: The skin is the most common place for this type of cancer to develop. But it can also appear on the eyes, scalp, nails, feet and mucous membranes like the sinuses, inside of the nose or mouth, vagina and anus.

5. Myth: Melanomas always appears dark in color

Fact: Sometimes, these cancers look pink, red, purple or colorless. “A spot on your skin that is asymmetrical or has an irregular border should still be checked out, no matter what color it is,” Dr. Mahmoud said.

6. Myth: You’ll only develop melanoma if you’ve had years of sun exposure

Fact: This type of cancer is linked with intermittent sun exposure in childhood and throughout your life. And just one blistering sunburn at a young age can increase the risk that you’ll develop skin cancer, while five or more blistering sunburns between ages 15 and 20 increases your risk by 80%.

7. Myth: If you get melanoma, it’s always easy to treat

Fact: When you spot melanoma early, treatment can be relatively easy. But when melanoma spreads to the liver, brain, bone or digestive system, it can require more invasive and long-term treatments, and it can be fatal.

8. Myth: You don’t need to apply sunscreen on cloudy days

Fact: On cloudy days, 80% of the sun’s UV rays can still reach your skin. Cloudy states like Washington, Oregon and Vermont have some of the highest rates of melanoma. “Cloudy climates may give people a false sense of protection,” Dr. Mahmoud said.

9. Myth: Your makeup provides enough sun protection on your face

Fact: Most makeup products don’t have the recommended SPF of 30 or more. And even if yours does, you’re not getting the protection you need unless you’re reapplying it every two hours.

10. Myth: You can get a safe tan with a tanning bed

Fact: According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, indoor tanning beds can emit 10 to 15 times more UV radiation than the sun at its peak. Using a tanning bed before age 35 increases your risk of developing melanoma by 75%. And indoor tanning is linked to about 6,200 cases of melanoma in the United States every year.

11. Myth: A base tan can protect you against melanoma

Fact: When your skin changes color in response to sun exposure, that’s a sign of damage. There is no such thing as a safe base tan. If you like the appearance of tanned skin, choose a lotion or bronzer.

12. Myth: You need sun exposure without sunscreen to get the vitamin D you need

Fact: It’s true that your skin will produce vitamin D when you expose it to the sun without protection. But that exposure also increases your risk of skin cancer. “It’s safer to get vitamin D from foods like milk and cereal products that have vitamin D added, or from supplements,” Dr. Mahmoud said.

13. Myth: If you wear sunscreen, you’re protected against skin cancer

Fact: Sunscreen is important, and you should use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, reapplied every two hours, for sun protection. But sunscreen is only one tool that can help protect you. You should also avoid direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., seek shade whenever you can, and wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses that block harmful UV rays to reduce your skin cancer risk.

The bottom line

There are a lot of misconceptions about melanoma, and skin cancer in general. No one is immune to the disease, so it’s crucial to examine your skin from head to toe every month. If you see a new mole, or a change in an existing mole, talk to a health care provider. If you would like to connect with a dermatologist who can evaluate your skin and help you reduce your risk of skin cancer, reach out to Banner Health.

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