Some myths can be fun or interesting. Who hasn’t wondered if there really is a living dinosaur concealed beneath the cold waves of Scotland’s Loch Ness? Or if some supernatural force is responsible for the disappearances of numerous ships and planes that were travelling across the infamous Bermuda Triangle?
Myths about health and disease, however, are a whole different ballgame. Believing the wrong ones can lead to injury, sickness and even death.
Melanoma is a potentially fatal disease that can, nevertheless, be either prevented or cured by people who know and abide by the facts. In this blog we present 8 common melanoma myths, followed by the actual truth behind each one.
We urge you to save this vital information for yourself, and to post it on your social media platforms.
It’s just a skin cancer, something small on your skin can’t kill you.
Yes, it can. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) predicts that over 13,000 Americans will be killed by some form of skin cancer in 2018. That averages out to more than 1 American death every hour of every day. Size doesn’t matter.
By the time you know you have it it’s too late.
This assumption can easily cost someone his or her life. While it’s true that melanoma can be fatal, it’s the timing of the diagnosis and treatment that determines the ultimate outcome. If caught early enough, melanoma has nearly a 100% cure rate. The mortality risk continues to rise with the passage of time. Which is why suspicious skin growths must be examined by a dermatologist without delay.
Melanomas are always black.
No, they’re not. Melanomas can be black. But they can also be blue-black, dark brown, brown-red, red, pink, grey, flesh-tone, or light to medium brown. Click here to read more facts about the two main types of the disease, nodular and radial, in greater detail.
If you get melanoma you need radiation and chemo to treat it.
A melanoma diagnosis is confirmed after a pathologist examines the excised mole or other skin growth. The excision (which includes a small amount of the surrounding healthy tissue) usually takes place in-office. If the malignancy is caught early enough, the excision itself is usually the cure. If it has gone beyond that, dermatologists have numerous treatment options at their disposal. They will employ the treatment that best suits a given patient’s condition. Chemo and radiation are generally ineffective against melanoma.
Teens and children don’t get melanoma.
Melanoma can develop at any time, from the day we’re born until the day we die. This is an equal opportunity disease that plays no favorites. It doesn’t care about age, gender, color or race. Parents and guardians have a responsibility to educate and protect their children from skin cancer, and step one is learning the truth. It’s difficult to imagine anything in life worse than a terminally ill child. Click on the link to read the facts about childhood melanoma.
Your primary care doctor can tell you if you have melanoma.
General practitioners usually lack sufficient training to accurately determine what’s actually melanoma, and what is merely a benign growth or a melanoma mimic. Even a trained dermatologist can’t always tell if a suspicious skin growth is cancerous just by looking. The difference, however, if he or she has the experience, diagnostic technology and resources that a GP does not.
It takes months to get an appointment with a dermatologist.
While it’s true that many dermatologist appointments are scheduled a few months in advance, they can be expedited when a patient detects something suspicious on his or her skin. In such cases call your dermatologist, tell him or her that you have a growth that looks like a photo of a melanoma, and request to receive any open time slot he or she may have. Or any opening due to a cancellation. If after a week you haven’t been seen, there are other options. You can learn more about them through this link.
Sunscreen with a high SPF will protect you from skin cancer and melanoma.
It depends. In order to receive the full SPF (Sun protection factor) effect, the sunscreen must be applied correctly. The typical person uses only 25% of what’s needed to obtain that full effect. An SPF 100 sunscreen applied at 25% has an effective SPF of only 3.1. If you are in a swimsuit, you need to apply an amount equivalent to a full shot glass (more for larger/taller people). Every inch of exposed skin should be evenly covered, and it should be re-applied every 2 hours at minimum. Even sooner if you have been swimming or sweating.
Getting a base tan before going on vacation to a warm sunny country or state will protect you from skin cancer.
Getting a base tan to protect against skin cancer is like eating doughnuts to avoid obesity. This is one of the more egregious skin cancer myths out there, and it needs to be quickly put to rest. Any unprotected sun exposure, either natural or artificial, can cause skin damage, skin cancer and/or melanoma.
When the subject is melanoma, it’s just the facts, ma’am (and sir). Just the facts.
There is always something new to learn about melanoma, and skin cancer in general. Through this blog, we’re able to continually reach countless people with these updates and contribute to the public’s education on the subject.
We also know that it’s important to occasionally look back and help refresh memories on the basics of this disease. That’s what we’ve done here today.
Of course, we can’t fit every bit of data into a single blog post. So, we’ve focused on a few of the most important melanoma subtopics. We’re presenting this in easy-to-read bullet point form with the hope that readers will bookmark this post for easily-repeatable access.
For those who are interested in more in-depth information on a given post, each bold headline is also a clickable link directly back to the original article on its topic.
- Most dangerous of the two main types of melanoma (Radial is the other)
- Typically presents initially on previously unblemished skin
- Often dome-shaped
- Can be multiple colors, though usually black, blue-black, dark brown or brown-red
- Unlike most skin cancers, begins its development beneath the skin’s surface
- Constitutes about 20% in adults, but 40%-60% in teens, pre-teens and adolescents
- Sunscreen is an excellent skin-protector, but only if applied and re-applied correctly
- Most sunscreen users apply only 25% of the amount needed to enjoy its full protective impact
- Minimum amount to apply if wearing a bathing suit would fill a shot glass
- A sufficient amount of sunscreen must be applied evenly over all sun-exposed skin to achieve maximum effectiveness
- Sunscreen must be re-applied every two hours at minimum. More frequently if the wearer has been swimming and/or sweating
- Anyone can develop melanoma from the day he or she is born
- Up to 10 years old, melanoma is frequently red; though it can present as pink or flesh-colored
- Melanoma in 11-18-year-olds is similar in appearance to melanoma in adults
- Infants should be completely protected from the sun until they’re at least 6 months old
- Focus is on helping middle and high school health educators correctly teach their students about melanoma detection and prevention
- Research data reveals these lessons are extremely effective
- Taught in over 1,700 schools in all 50 states
- Brief and to the point to accommodate the short attention spans of young people
- More effective than sun safety-based lessons
- To learn more, teachers and parents may watch this 3-minute long introductory video. Afterward, teachers can register for totally free access to the lesson-videos and other free resources.
- Highly-effective tool for use in early melanoma detection
- Most patients discover their own melanoma before their doctors do
- Unless there’s something visually obvious or the subject is broached to them, most doctors don’t even bother checking for skin cancer during routine appointments
- 30% of melanomas develop on skin that is rarely exposed to the sun
- Once a month, check your entire body for suspicious or changing moles and skin growths. Including under the hair.
- Employ mirrors and/or a significant other/good friend to assist checking areas you cannot see
- Ask hair stylists and tattoo artists to alert you if they come across any suspicious-looking growths
- If caught early enough, melanoma’s cure rate is nearly 100%. If allowed to develop untreated, with enough time it will nearly always become fatal. Early detection is paramount.
- About 40% of tanning salons ignore state laws, and very often get away with doing so
- Tanning leads to a massive increase in the odds of developing skin cancer; especially in young women, who frequent these salons more than any other age and gender demographic
- More skin cancer is caused by tanning beds than lung cancer is caused by smoking
We encourage you to read any of the wide variety of previous posts on our blog, along with our new posts., and visit Skincheck.org for more good information on this horrible, yet mostly preventable, disease.Melanoma Potpourri
Over the 18 years since the Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) was founded, we’ve learned that the success of sun safety instruction varies, depending on the age of the students.
Sun safety education has a much greater effect on elementary school students than it does on teens who attend junior high and high school.
Sloan Kettering Cancer Center recently conducted a study on this topic. They researched the difference between elementary and middle school students in Framingham, Massachusetts. They discovered a 50% reduction in the use of sunscreen use by the middle schoolers in comparison with that of the elementary school students.
Despite significantly increasing the amount of sun safety instruction taught in classrooms, we’re frequently informed by secondary school health teachers that their students aren’t taking heed of the information presented to them. They ignore the dangers of skin exposure to UV rays, and continue to tan either naturally or through tanning beds.
The sun’s harmful UV rays are directly responsible for 70% of melanomas and 95% of other skin cancers. In light of these alarming statistics, the question remains why would teens continually disregard sun safety lessons designed to keep them safe and healthy?
We think that the way the information is being presented is improperly balanced. Sun safety is overemphasized at the expense of sufficiently educating students about the consequences of overexposure to UV rays.
MEF lessons do include sun safety information of course, but they start by focusing the students’ attention on melanoma itself; what it really is, what it does and how it does it. This is tremendously important, because melanoma is the skin cancer most likely to affect them all the way from infancy into adulthood.
Our lessons start with providing key information about melanoma.
- That teens are susceptible to melanoma right now
- How melanoma develops and spreads to other parts of the body
- Its risk factors and warning signs
- How (and how often) to self-examine their skin for early signs of the disease
- How easy melanoma is to cure if it’s found early- and how lethal it is if found too late
The second part of the lessons focus on the role that UV radiation plays in causing melanoma, and how to reduce the risks from it.
It’s important that the lesson topics are presented in the correct order: melanoma first, sun safety second. To a teen sitting in a classroom, a sun safety talk may sound very much like a parental lecture on brushing their teeth or washing their hands. In other words, just the sort of white noise they’d be likely to tune out.
However, when melanoma is explained to teens; when right off the bat they’re informed (and, also importantly, shown) just how much damage this disease can inflict, they are much more likely to take sun safety seriously and give it the respect it commands.
A teacher survey that we recently conducted regarding the impact of MEF’s lessons yielded some very positive results. Among them:
- 73% of teachers reported that students made appointments to get moles checked after receiving the lessons
- 14.8% of teachers were told by students that early melanomas were found because of the lessons
- 34% of teachers said students found precancerous moles because of the lessons
- After the lessons, 95% of teachers reported students said they would use more sunscreen, and 81% reported students said they would stop using tanning beds
That is very encouraging data. Our previous blog post on this specific survey provides additional positive results regarding the impact of the lessons on teachers and their families. For more details about the survey, read Teacher Survey Confirms Effectiveness of Melanoma Lessons.
Sun Safety-Based Lessons are Ineffective for Educating Teens About Skin Cancer
*Information source articles: MEF Fall 2017 Newsletter Article, Prospective Study of Sunburn and Sun Behavior Patterns During Adolescence, Pediatrics. Feb 2012; 129(2): 309–317, Sun-protective behaviors in populations at high risk for skin cancer, Psychology Research and Behavior Management, December 20, 2013, Indoor Tanning Is Not Safe, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Updated January 24, 2017, Melanoma Knowledge and Sun Protection Attitudes and Behaviors Among College Students by Gender and Skin Type, American Journal of Health Education, Sept/Oct 2005, Vol 36, No. 5
Each day, more people learn about the importance of wearing sunscreen whenever they’re outdoors to shield themselves against the sun’s harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays. While that news is heartening, getting that information out is only half of the battle.
If a user misunderstands how a sunscreen’s Sun Protection Factor (SPF) works, or if the product is incorrectly applied, the level of protection received can be considerably lower than he or she believes it to be. That can be very dangerous.
If your mouthwash contained a lesser percentage of cinnamon flavor than you thought it did, it would make absolutely no difference as far as your health is concerned. However, if you walked around every day thinking you were wearing a sunscreen that provided more skin defense than it actually did, that mistaken notion could end up resulting in skin cancer. Or, even worse, the potentially deadly melanoma.
Don’t Get Burned, Either Literally or Figuratively
We’d like to help clear up this confusion. There is a view held by many that, because an SPF 50 sunscreen absorbs 98% of UVB radiation while an SPF 100 sunscreen absorbs 99%, just 1% more, the SPF 100 sunscreen offers hardly any advantage over the SPF 50 sunscreen. That’s a misinterpretation of the facts.
If an SPF 100 sunscreen is correctly applied and continually re-applied every two hours at a minimum, (or immediately after swimming or profuse sweating) it’ll provide adequate skin protection for double the amount of time that a SPF 50 sunscreen will.
But Wait, There’s More!
There are other ways that we inadvertently end up leaving ourselves vulnerable to those dangerous UV rays. We’ll go over a few here.
It’s the rare person who applies an amount of sunscreen sufficient enough to reach the SPF level touted by the product. And, whether they do or not, most don’t re-apply it as needed- if they even re-apply it at all.
Every time you use sunscreen, the goal should be to cover every sun-exposed inch of skin. If you’re in a swimsuit, the necessary quantity is enough to fill a shot glass. In fact, instead of guessing, consider simply using an actual shot glass.
Unfortunately, independent studies have shown that an alarming number of sunscreen brands don’t meet the SPF ratings that their packages trumpet. It’s important to do a little online research on your favorite brand to see if the claimed SPF is accurate.
Finally, it bears repeating. You’ve probably heard that famous real estate slogan, it’s all about location, location, location! With sunscreen, think re-application, re-application, re-application! If you’re going to be spending time outdoors, re-application is as important as applying sunscreen is to begin with.
SPF: Fact versus Fiction
*Additional source: Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) Fall 2016 Newsletter
Anyone with even the most basic awareness of skin cancer is likely to know that the Golden Rule of practicing sun-safety is to wear sunscreen. The only better protection from the sun’s harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays is to sit inside your home with all the window shades drawn.
Unfortunately, though, there is a key piece of information regarding sunscreen of which far too many people are unaware.
Get the Maximum SPF Out of Your Sunscreen
First, if you’re a regular sunscreen user—excellent job. However, it’s equally important to apply the correct amount. This is the only way to ensure that the sun protection factor (SPF) sun-shield that you’re actually receiving is identical to what is stated on the product.
Many of us, albeit unwittingly, fall into that category. The typical wearer applies a mere 25% of what’s required to achieve a sunscreen’s full safety potential. And while 75% off may be fantastic for department store sales; it is disastrous to our skin. To illustrate further, when 25% of an SPF 100 rated sunscreen is applied, the true SPF isn’t 25-—it’s only 3.2.
Anyone who spends even a brief time reading up on skin cancer and melanoma, will inevitably come across a few of the same specific comparisons used in a wide variety of materials. The one relevant to this post is that the minimum volume of sunscreen to use for each application would be enough to fill a shot glass. It’s also important that it be evenly distributed across any exposed skin, and be re-applied at a maximum of two hours. Even sooner than that if you’ve been sweating or swimming.
Speaking of the latter, spending a day at a beach or pool wearing only a swimsuit is not a good idea. However, anyone who does should use up an entire a 6-ounce container of sunscreen on him or herself by the time they leave. Do you use that much or know anyone who does?
The main point is important to reiterate: you must apply sunscreen much more heavily than that of most users to achieve the rated SPF.
Don’t just get your money’s worth of SPF; get your skin’s good health worth.