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The Truth About Melanoma and Skin Cancer

Myths vs. Facts

Often caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight, melanoma accounts for only 4 to 5% of skin cancer cases, but is responsible for most skin cancer-related deaths. As with many forms of cancer, melanoma is often misunderstood, and myths persist.

When detected and treated in its earliest stages, however, melanoma is often curable. The key is to avoid overexposure to UV rays by limiting time outdoors during the peak hours of sunlight and wearing sun-protective clothing and sunscreen and to be on the lookout for changes in moles and other blemishes that can be an early sign of the disease.

Let’s set the record straight on 5 of the most common myths about melanoma.


Myth 1: A diagnosis of melanoma means that I have months to live.

There are 4 stages of melanoma — 5 if you include a form known as melanoma in “situ”, an early form of the disease that affects only the top layer of skin. The depth of the original melanoma is important to determining how it will be treated and how people with it are likely to do with treatment. Although more melanomas are being diagnosed, the largest portion are made up of Stage 1 melanomas. Before worrying about the worst outcomes, speak with your doctor about what stage melanoma you have.

Myth 2: There is no difference between SPF 30 and SPF 100 sunscreen.

Although the baseline protection from SPF 30 and SPF 100 is not very different, the higher number provides longer coverage. (SPF stands for sun protection factor, or the amount of ultraviolet radiation the skin can absorb without burning while the sunscreen is on.)

Here’s how SPF and sun protection work:

If it normally takes you 10 minutes in the sun to burn, an SPF 30 sunscreen protects you for 300 minutes. An SPF 100 should, in theory, provide 1,000 minutes of coverage. If you are sweating and active, the sunscreen can rub off and should therefore be reapplied every 2 hours.

Myth 3: If it is a cloudy day, I do not need to wear sunscreen.

About 80% of ultraviolet radiation reaches the earth even through clouds. Use a moisturizer with sunscreen daily, especially for areas that have high exposure, such as your face.

Myth 4: If I am low in vitamin D levels, I must get some sun exposure.

Although the skin is the most efficient site of vitamin D production, adequate amounts can be obtained from your diet and from supplements. Vitamin D helps you absorb calcium and build strong bones, so we frequently recommend supplements that include vitamin D and calcium.

Myth 5: If I have dark skin, I can’t burn and won’t get melanoma.

Even people with darker skin complexions can burn if they’re exposed to the sun long enough. Although melanoma is much more rare in individuals of darker skin, it can still occur. We recommend that darker-skinned individuals inspect their hands and feet once a month.


Want to learn more about melanoma and skin cancer?

Visit the CDC and the National Cancer Institute website for more info!