Did you know that melanoma kills 1 American every hour? That’s about 9,000 deaths in a year. And sadly, the incidence rate of melanoma has increased in the past 30 years, and is now one of the most common types of skin cancer in young people, affecting particularly women. Melanoma has, in the past few years, become more common in the UK and other European countries too.
To keep yourself safe, and reduce the risky factors that lead to the development of melanoma, it’s important to know a few facts about this type of cancer and debunk some of the common myths that surround it:
1. If you avoid the sun, you won’t get melanoma
If only it were that easy! Melanoma, like any other type of skin cancer, can affect anyone, at any age. Prolonged and unprotected sun exposure has been shown to increase the risk of developing skin cancer (even one bad sunburn as a child is enough). But it’s not the only cause. People whose relatives have died of melanoma or who have had other types of cancer are more are risk of developing melanoma too. That can also explain why even people who spend little time outdoors can get melanoma or why the cancer can develop in areas that aren’t usually exposed to the sun, such as the inside of the mouth, the eye, and even the vagina! Still, that’s not a good reason to spend hours outdoors without any kind of protection.
2. Tanning beds are safer than outdoor tanning
There is no such thing as a safe tan. A tan is the body’s natural defence mechanism to protect itself from UV rays, so if you’re developing one, it means your skin is getting damaged. And when DNA in skin cells is damaged, it can mutate and increase the risk of developing skin cancer. If used regularly, tanning beds will not only make you more prone to develop melanoma, but they will also make you age faster. Tanning beds emit mostly UVA rays, which are responsible for premature aging. It’s UVB rays, instead, that cause sunburn and produce Vitamin D. Both can cause cancer, so just because tanning beds don’t emit many UVB rays, it doesn’t mean they are safer than outdoor tanning.
3. Melanoma only appears as an ugly black mole
I wish! That would make it easier to diagnose. While a lot of melanomas look like ugly black moles, they can also appear in any brown or tan shades, and can even develop in moles that have hairs. As a rule, you should keep an eye on any mole different from the others on your body or that has changed overtime. Better yet, go to a doctor for a full body exam once a year. Your doctor has a trained eye and will be better able to spot melanoma in its earliest stages, when it is much easier to treat. Melanoma is not always deadly. Very often, it is actually benign, but even then it can eventually become very dangerous if not removed in time.
4. Sunscreen can prevent melanoma
This is not entirely false, but it’s not entirely true either. Sunscreen can help prevent melanoma, but it is no guarantee that you won’t get it. Many cancers begin when one or more genes in a cell are mutated. This mutation can have environmental causes (unprotected sun exposure, cigarette smoke, pollution), but “bad, mutated genes” can be passed on from generation to generation. Even people who lead healthy lives, eat balanced diets rich in fruits and vegs, exercise regularly, avoid the sun and don’t smoke, can develop one type of cancer. The causes of many types of cancer aren’t yet fully understood, but if something can help reduce the risk of developing them, why not use it? So, pile on the sunscreen to help prevent melanoma. But don’t forget to wear protective clothes and stay away from the sun as much as possible too.
While not all melanomas are related to sun exposure, using sunscreen daily, wearing protective clothing and reducing the time you spent in the sun are still the best ways to prevent skin cancer. Are you following these tips?