Experts Dispel Common Melanoma Myths

FRIDAY, June 7 (HealthDay News) — As you head to the beach or pool, here are some sun-sense tips to keep in mind: Skin that tans is not invulnerable to cancer, and one application of sunscreen daily is not enough protection against the sun’s harmful ultra-violet rays, according to skin cancer experts.

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, claims more than 9,000 lives in the United States every year. The rate has been rising over the past 30 years and it’s now one of the most common cancers in people younger than 30 years old, particularly young women.

Although genetics can increase your risk of melanoma, the best way to prevent skin cancer is to reduce sun exposure by wearing protective clothing, applying sunscreen and simply staying out of the sun.

The Melanoma Research Alliance has teamed up with experts from the charitable initiative Stand Up to Cancer to clear up common myths about melanoma.

Myth: If your skin tans but doesn’t burn, you cannot get skin cancer.

Fact: Sun exposure of all levels can contribute to cancer development. Even people who don’t usually burn can get melanoma.

Myth: Tanning booths are safe because they are not “real sun.”

Fact: Tanning beds are not safer than natural sun exposure. Most tanning beds utilize UVA rays, which penetrate to the deeper layers of the skin and may increase the risk of melanoma. They also use UVB rays, the cause of most sunburns. The World Health Organization classifies tanning beds as “carcinogenic to humans.” Women who use tanning beds more than once a month are 55 percent more likely to develop melanoma, the U.S. National Cancer Institute reports.

Myth: One application of sunscreen daily is sufficient to protect against sun damage.

Fact: Sunscreen must be applied frequently throughout the day during sun exposure, particularly if it could be washed off by sweat or water.

Myth: “Adequate” use of sunscreen will prevent melanoma.

Fact: Although sunscreen can help prevent skin cancers, it only provides minimal protection. It’s also important to limit sun exposure and cover up with protective clothing and gear.

Myth: If a spot that has been on your body for years changes but hasn’t gotten much bigger, it can’t become melanoma.

Fact: Many melanomas occur in pre-existing spots or moles. A doctor should evaluate all moles, lesions or spots that have changed. People with multiple moles should undergo routine full-body exams by a dermatologist.

Myth: Melanoma can only develop on body parts where the “sun can shine.”

Fact: Some types of melanoma are not related to sun exposure and can occur in unexpected places, such as the vagina, the rectum, inside the mouth, the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute provides more information on melanoma.