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Close-up Detail Of Bare Skin On A Man’s Back With Scattered Moles And Freckles

The Truth Behind 7 Common Skin Cancer Myths

Did you know that more people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year than all other cancers combined? By the time they turn 70, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer of some form. Why is the rate of skin cancer so high in the United States? One factor could be that many people simply don’t understand their risk factors. That’s why we’re here to debunk some of the most common skin cancer myths and set the record straight!

Myth #1: People With Darker Skin Tones Can’t Get Skin Cancer

Let’s talk about how skin color works. Melanocytes, a type of skin cell, produce a pigment called melanin. There are two main types of melanin—eumelanin and pheomelanin. People with darker skin have more eumelanin, and people with fair skin have more pheomelanin.

UV damage causes the skin to produce more eumelanin to try and protect the skin from further damage (i.e., you get a tan!). Pheomelanin doesn’t protect the skin quite as well, which means that people with fairer skin are more susceptible to sun damage, and therefore to skin cancer. However, that doesn’t mean people with darker skin are immune—people of ALL skin tones can get skin cancer.

In fact, though skin cancer rates are lower in people with darker skin, mortality rates are higher. One possible explanation? If you don’t know you’re at risk, you may not seek treatment as early.

Myth #2: You Need Daily Sun Exposure to Get Enough Vitamin D

Even though many people know sun exposure increases their cancer risk, they think that risk is necessary to get enough vitamin D. But researchers have studied people in countries where the amount of UV rays per minute spent in the sun is highest. They found that even people who get a lot of daily sun can still be vitamin D deficient.

A much safer and more efficient way to get your vitamin D is through your diet. Eating plenty of fish, certain mushrooms, egg yolks, and fortified beverages like milk and orange juice can help you get what you need without damaging your skin.

Myth #3: A Mole Can’t Be Cancerous if It’s Flat

There are three major types of skin cancer: squamous cell (on the outer layer of skin), basal cell (the middle layer), and melanoma (the deepest layer). Of these, melanomas are the most deadly, and up to 70% of them are a type called superficial spreading melanoma. These cancers are often flat, leading many people to glance over or ignore them.

Only 20 to 30% of melanomas start in moles—the rest begin on otherwise normal skin. If you notice a new growth or any change in your skin, schedule a skin cancer screening with a dermatologist right away!

Myth #4: You Don’t Need to Wear Sunscreen on a Cloudy Day

You probably know this already if you’ve ever sat out on the beach on an overcast day: sunburns are possible whether it’s cloudy or sunny, hot or cold. In fact, 80% of the sun’s UV rays penetrate cloud cover. Just because you don’t see or feel the sun doesn’t mean your skin isn’t getting damaged. UV rays can reflect off water, snow, sand, light-colored pavement, and even grass, meaning sunscreen is always a good idea outdoors.

Myth #5: You Can’t Get Sun Damage Through Windows

UV rays can be broken down into two major types: UVA (aging) and UVB (burning). While windows do typically block out UVB rays, they don’t do much against UVA rays—which cause signs of premature aging, like wrinkles. While special UV coatings are available for windows, most cars, commercial buildings, and homes don’t tend to have them by default.

So, if you spend a lot of time in your car or sitting next to a large window at work, you should be wearing sunscreen daily.

Myth #6: Getting a Tan Prevents Sunburns, So it Decreases the Risk of Skin Cancer

Many people think that it’s healthy to get a “base tan” to protect their skin from cancer-causing sunburns. First, the idea that sunburns are the only road to skin cancer is definitely a myth. Second, a tan is your skin’s defensive response to damage at the cellular level. (Remember the eumelanin from earlier?) That means a tan is a sign of skin damage—therefore, tanning increases your risk for skin cancer.

Myth #7: Sun Damage is the Only Cause of Skin Cancer

UV exposure is the #1 cause of skin cancer, but the sun isn’t the only source of UV rays. The UV rays from tanning beds are 10 to 15 times more intense than the sun. That’s why indoor tanning increases your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 83%.

Skin cancer can also develop spontaneously—in fact, 5 to 10% of melanoma cases are hereditary. If you know that a member of your family has had skin cancer, you need to be even more careful about your daily skin protection measures and skin cancer screenings.

How is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?

If these myths have you rethinking a spot on your skin, it’s important to get in touch with an expert dermatologist as soon as possible. With early detection, skin cancers are very treatable. At Advanced Dermatology of North Central Ohio, our physicians are highly trained on the latest skin cancer screening, testing, and treatment techniques, including Mohs Surgery, to get you back to a healthy life!

Skin Cancer Screening, Diagnosis, & Treatment in Mansfield, OH

If you have questions about other skin cancer myths you’ve heard and want to get an expert opinion, contact our office for an appointment today! Our board-certified dermatologist can identify and treat all types of skin cancer, even the most difficult to detect. Call us today at (419) 664-5138 or contact us online!

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