We live in a world of endless information, where at the touch of a button we can find the answers to our most pressing questions. While this has created a generation of great knowledge, it has also provided the platform to misinformation. Skin cancer myths often do their rounds, and since this is a prevalent and potentially life-threatening condition, we are here to bust some of the most common myths out there
1) People With Darker Or Olive Skin Don’t Get Skin Cancer
Skin cancer does not discriminate between age, gender or race. Oftentimes, patients with darker skin types tell us that they do not wear sunscreen because there is no need or no risk of skin cancer. While it is true that skin cancer is more common in Caucasians, it is the most common type of cancer in the US, and it can affect anyone. A recent survey showed that more than half of African Americans have never worn sunscreen. We try very hard to dispel this myth, as people of all skin colors can get all types of skin cancer. In fact, while melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, is more common in lighter skin types, it is more likely to be diagnosed later in African Americans, and therefore has a worse prognosis and overall survival rate. Additionally, a certain type of melanoma, Acral Lentiginous Melanoma, is more common in darker skin. This type of skin cancer usually looks like an irregular dark mole on the palms and soles, which can often be mistaken for a dirty spot on the foot, or be hiding in between the toes. Bob Marley died of a melanoma on the toe when he was only 36 years old.
2) Skin Cancer Can Only Occur In Areas Exposed To The Sun
Bob Marley is another great example of this misconception. Anyone can get skin cancer “where the sun don’t shine!” Bob Marley died of an especially dangerous type of melanoma (Acral Lentiginous Melanoma) that can be found on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and even the nails. While all skin types exposed to UV radiation can develop sunburn and DNA damage, researchers believe that certain types of skin cancer, such as melanoma on the palms and soles, is more likely due to genetic risk factors. Additionally, certain types of Squamous Cell Carcinoma, the second most common type of skin cancer, can occur due to non sun-related causes, such as high-risk warts of the genitals, areas treated with radiation therapy, immunosuppression, and chronic wounds. While sunscreen would not prevent these types of skin cancers, it is important to understand that sun protective behaviors do protect against UV damage that causes wrinkles and freckles. Additionally, it is extremely important for patients of all skin types to examine their skin closely and make an appointment with a Board-Certified Dermatologist if they find any new, changing, growing or bleeding skin lesions on any part of their skin.
3) If You Don’t Spend Time In The Sun Now, You Won’t Get Skin Cancer
I often hear this question from my patients: “Doctor, I don’t understand. I am always wearing hats and sunscreen, so why am I still getting skin cancers?” Sun damage is cumulative. Many of my patients are from a generation where people thought that sunburns and being tanned was healthy, and sunscreen did not exist. Studies today show that a majority of skin cancers are due to sun you got before you were 18. Researchers think that younger skin is more susceptible to UV damage. In fact, just five blistering sunburns during childhood increases the risk of all types of skin cancer, but especially melanoma, the most fatal form of skin cancer, by 80% in adulthood. There are certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of melanoma that patients cannot control, such as having light skin, light eyes, red hair, several abnormal moles, or family history of melanoma. However, regardless of your risk factors, safe sun behaviors are important at every age.
4) Only Raised Skin Lesions Are Worrisome, Flat Lesions Are Not Dangerous
Skin cancers can come in all shapes and sizes. Often, they start out as a flat sore or flat mole and then grow in to a bump or ulcer if not caught early. This is why it is imperative to have at least annual full body exams by your board-certified dermatologist. If we catch a skin cancer in the earliest stages (when it is often flat), we will be able to treat it with a much smaller scar. Also, an early, superficial melanoma is likely to be flat and at the stage where we can cure it with a simple in-office skin cancer treatment surgery. However, once it grows deeper (where it may show as a bump), it is at a higher risk for spreading to other parts of your body and potentially can be life threatening.
There are many other skin cancer misconceptions that circulate the news. Everyone should have a baseline skin cancer screening and annual skin exam, as concerning lesions are not always obvious. Call Siperstein Dermatology Group at (561) 364-7774 to schedule an appointment with any of our board-certified dermatologists for your exam and to discuss any concerns or questions.