How much do you know about skin cancer? With an estimated one in five Americans developing skin cancer in their lifetime, this often-misunderstood disease is the most common form of cancer in the United States.
We talked to Dr. Stephen F. Hodi, director of the Melanoma Center and the Center for Immuno-Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, about five common skin cancer misconceptions. Here is what he had to say:
Myth: You can’t get skin cancer when it’s cloudy.
Fact: Sun exposure at any time can increase your risk for skin cancer, even when it’s cloudy. Up to 80 percent of ultraviolet radiation can penetrate through clouds and fog. It’s good practice to use a daily moisturizer with sunscreen to always stay protected.
Myth: Melanoma is the most common form of skin cancer.
Fact: Many people see skin cancer as synonymous with melanoma, but melanoma is only one type of skin cancer. Melanoma accounts for 2-4% of all skin cancers, but it is the most aggressive and most likely to spread to other parts of the body, making it the most deadly. One blistering sunburn can double the risk for melanoma.
Myth: Tanning beds are safe because you’re not being directly exposed to the sun.
Fact: Indoor tanning actually increases your risk for skin cancer and premature skin aging. Studies have found that the risk of melanoma increases by almost 60% with exposure to indoor tanning. In fact, the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer is exposure to UV radiation from indoor tanning equipment.
Myth: Elevation does not increase your risk of skin cancer.
Fact: It’s good to remember that the higher you are, the closer you are to the sun. The higher the elevation, the more sunlight – including ultraviolet radiation that causes skin cancer – reaches the ground. However, being at a lower elevation does not necessarily make you any safer from skin cancer. Remember: the less sun you get, the better. Stay safe on your summer hikes!
Myth: It is not necessary to use sunscreen with SPF higher than 30 because after SPF 30 all sunscreen is the same.
Fact: The higher the SPF, the longer the coverage. If you normally burn after 10 minutes in the sun, then SPF 30 should protect you for 300 minutes. So, in theory, SPF 70 will protect you for 700 minutes. You should always use SPF 30 or higher. Make sure your sunscreen has UVA and UVB protection, or “broad spectrum.” If you are sweating and being active, sunscreen can rub off and must be reapplied every two hours no matter what SPF you are using. And don’t forget about your lips! Always apply lip balm with SPF 30 or higher as well.
Remember these important facts about skin cancer to stay sun-safe this summer! For more information, the Center for Immuno-Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center has expertise in the treatment, prevention, and clinical trial research on skin cancers.
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