When it comes to melanoma and other skin cancers, tanning, and safety, there are many misconceptions. It is important to understand what will help prevent skin-related cancers and what may actually increase your risk. Here are some common myths related to melanoma and other skin cancers:
MYTH: Dark skin doesn’t burn so I won’t get skin cancer.
FACT: All skin types and ethnic groups can contract skin cancer. While it is true that Caucasians have a greater risk of skin-related cancer, everyone should protect their skin against UV rays. While fair skinned people can fairly easily see stage 1 melanoma and other cancers, darker skin makes catching it in the early stage more unlikely. In fact, Latino and African-Americans that have contracted skin cancer have a noticeably higher mortality rate, often due to diagnosing it in later stages (Source: National Cancer Institute). All skin types should practice safe sun.
MYTH: By putting on sunscreen, as soon as you get to the beach, you won’t get burned and will protect against skin cancer.
FACT: Sunscreen takes about an hour to really absorb into your skin. While it will still make a large difference, you won’t have total protection until it has been absorbed. Slathering it on one an hour, while in the sun, is highly recommended. One application won’t give you infinite protection, as anyone who has received a bad burn even with sunscreen will tell you. Make sure to choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen, especially if you have fair skin. SPF only rates protection against UVB rays but UVA rays are also harmful. A broad-spectrum protection in your sunscreen protects against both types.
MYTH: Getting a “base tan” so you won’t burn.
FACT: Forcing a “base tan” before going on vacation or starting the summer can be highly damaging. It in no way helps protect you from melanoma and other skin-related cancers. Quite the opposite, as it usually encourages people to take in harmful UV rays without any sort of skin protection. Simply using a recommended amount of sunscreen is the way to go, when you are planning on being out in the sun. A “base tan” will do little more than increase your risk of melanoma.
MYTH: Unexposed skin can’t get melanoma and doesn’t need to be checked.
FACT: Unfortunately, you can contract melanoma on the soles of your feet, beneath your toenails and fingernails, in some organs, and even in your eyes. Whether skin is exposed or not, it is still at risk of melanoma and should be checked, during a cancer screening. Women are most likely to have melanoma appear on the backs of their legs and men are most likely to have it manifest on their back (Source: MD Anderson Cancer Center), regardless of how often they may tan. Screenings are important, as is checking yourself for any changes in your skin.
MYTH: Practicing proper sun protection is all you need.
FACT: UV rays can cause irreversible damage to your skin. This is why tanning and burning at an early age can increase your risk of melanoma for the rest of your life. The number of times your sustained a sun burn during adolescence is very often a contributing factor in showing signs of melanoma. No matter at what point in your life you begin using sunscreen and protecting yourself from the sun, screenings for skin cancer are always recommended. People with fairer skin and those who have sustained harsh sunburns should be checked more regularly. Those that have had melanoma or any skin cancer in the past are still at risk and should be checked more often than others.
MYTH: Only people who tan regularly get skin cancer.
FACT: Anyone can get melanoma or other skin-related cancers. While repeatedly basking in the sun will certainly increase your chances of skin cancer, people have different reactions to cancer causing agents and influences. Older individuals tend to register higher susceptibility to melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, as their immune system and skin tissue becomes less effective towards repairing the damage from sun exposure. It is important for everyone to be aware of the possibility of skin cancer. If you show any signs that a mole is changing shape or color or a patch of skin has become harder than usual or discoloured, consult your doctor and book an appointment for a screening.