By Richard Bezozo, M.D., President of MoleSafe
The summer months are approaching and the weather is warming up, which to most people means it is time for vacations, barbeques and the beach. While all of these plans for fun in the sun are great, it is vital to practice safe sun. According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, about 77, 000 individuals in the United States will be diagnosed with melanoma, the most serious and deadliest form of skin cancer. As it is often seen, the deadly disease carries a number of common misconceptions, so as the sun and heat approach, I am here to debunk these myths and provide you with the truth.
MYTH: One sunburn won’t do any harm.
TRUTH: If you think a single sunburn cannot affect your chances of developing skin cancer, think again. It is actually found that only one blistering sunburn, especially during your childhood, can more than double your chances of developing melanoma later in life. Reduce your risk by minimizing exposure during the sun’s strongest and most powerful hours: from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to all exposed and non-exposed skin areas 20 minutes before going outdoors, and reapply every 1 ½ to 2 hours. Don’t forget that sunscreen is needed even on cloudy days, because approximately 50 – 80 percent of UV rays penetrate through the clouds. It’s also important to wear a hat, UV-blocking sunglasses, a lip balm with an SPF, and to wear protective clothing to cover your skin if and when possible.
MYTH: Melanoma is only found on skin.
TRUTH: Although melanoma is often only believed to be a cancer that develops on the skin, there are in fact three types of melanoma. Cutaneous melanoma, which develops on the skin, is of course the most common type of melanoma, but melanoma can also occur in any mucous membrane, including your mouth and throat; this is called mucosal melanoma. The third type of melanoma is a rare type which develops in the eye, known as ocular melanoma.
MYTH: Melanoma only affects the elderly.
TRUTH: Although melanoma is frequently associated with the elderly, this disease certainly does not discriminate. Research shows that melanoma is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women ages 25-30 and the second most common cancer found in young adults.
MYTH: People should rely on their physician to find melanoma on their skin.
TRUTH: Majority of melanomas are actually found by patients themselves. This emphasizes the importance of knowing your skin, performing self-screenings regularly and not merely depending on doctor visits. Although cancerous moles are more often those that grow into odd shapes and colors, it is important to check all moles. Moles often change and any suspicious mole, whether life-long or new, should always be inspected by a doctor. Visit Melanoma Research Foundation for a helpful guide to self-screening and the importance of early detection.
MYTH: Any sunscreen will keep me from getting sunburned.
TRUTH: In order to protect your skin properly from sunburn, skin cancer and premature aging, you must use the correct type of sunscreen and apply it correctly. When purchasing sunscreen you should look for something that says “Broad Spectrum”, which will protect your skin from both UVB and UVA radiation. I strongly suggest that you always apply SPF 30 or higher for maximum protection and reapply every 1 ½ to 2 hours when in the sun. Companies are no longer allowed to claim that their sunscreens are “sweat proof” or “waterproof” so I also recommend applying sunscreen every hour if you are in the water or sweating.
MYTH: Tanning at a salon is safer than tanning outdoors.
TRUTH: The idea that tanning booths are safe and essentially good for your health, due to the vitamin D it provides the body, could not be further from the truth. Actually, recent studies from the Melanoma Research Foundation show that tanning bed users have a significantly increased risk of developing melanoma. Tanning beds release a great deal of UVR (ultraviolet radiation), so instead of visiting a tanning salon, try properly practicing safe sun outdoors and getting your vitamin D from vitamins or a proper diet.
MYTH: People with dark skin tones are not at risk for skin cancer.
TRUTH: Whether you are fair-skinned or dark-skinned, no individual is immune to developing skin cancer. It is a common mistaken belief that darker-skinned individuals are not at risk of this disease, and that may derive from the large amount of melanin in darker skin, which gives the skin color and acts as a natural shield against the sun. The larger amount of melanin makes darker-skinned individuals less likely to get sunburned, but it does not eliminate the risk of developing skin cancer.
Skin cancer is an extremely dangerous and far too common disease that relies a great deal on precaution and prevention efforts. Understanding what is fact and myth is an important, preventative step that will lessen your likelihood of developing melanoma. I encourage you to keep this information in mind and be sure to perform self-checks, make regular visits to your dermatologist and consider enrolling in an early detection surveillance program.
As an effort to continue awareness, promote education and encourage early detection through screening programs and monthly self-skin exams, MoleSafe has partnered with Melanoma Research Foundation for the month of May. Throughout the month, MoleSafe is donating $10 to the Melanoma Research Foundation for every screening it conducts, in light of Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Both MoleSafe and Melanoma Research Foundation strongly believe that enhanced awareness and understanding are vital steps to preventing and improving melanoma diagnosis.
Richard Craig Bezozo, M.D., is the President of MoleSafe U.S.A. MoleSafe is an advanced early detection melanoma screening and surveillance program with locations throughout the U.S. MoleSafe’s program is a suite of advanced melanoma detection and diagnosis tools and technology, which incorporates total body photography, digital dermoscopy, and digital serial monitoring to aid in the earliest detection of melanoma and significantly reduces the number of unnecessary biopsies.
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