Many people are surprised to learn that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., topping even breast and lung cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that 20% of Americans will be affected by a form of skin cancer during their lifetime. Even so, the myths about skin cancer are widespread, which contributes to the rise of the disease.

The physicians at Premier Surgical Associates in Knoxville recognize how crucial it is to for  everyone in East Tennessee to educate themselves about skin cancer, and caution against the following common myths.

1— All skin cancers are melanoma, and are deadly.

False. Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells, often occurring on sun-damaged skin. There are three main types of skin cancer—basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma, with melanoma being the most aggressive and deadly form. While melanoma is the most recognized form because it is the fastest growing and causes the most deaths from skin cancer, only 4-5% of skin cancers are malignant melanoma. Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are also malignant, but they are slow growing and more easily treated than melanoma.

2— Elderly people are most likely to develop melanoma.

False. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma is the second most common type of cancer in people 15-29 years old, and is the most common cancer in 25-20 year olds. This may be due to the fact that melanoma is linked to sudden damage caused by sunburn, whereas basal and squamous cell carcinomas are linked to built-up exposure to UV radiation over time.

3— Tanning beds are safer than UV rays from the sun

False. Tanning beds and sun lamps are known carcinogens, emitting up to 3x the amount of midday sun. The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery verifies that there is mounting evidence that the UV radiation from tanning beds and lamps may increase your risk of developing melanoma. If a tanned appearance is important to you, consider sunless tanning products such as lotions or sprays.

4— If I tan easily, I won’t get skin cancer.

False. Simply put, there’s no such thing as a “healthy tan.” Any variance in the natural color of your skin is a result of sun damage. The amount of melanin—the pigment in your skin that contributes to your skin’s natural shade—increases with UV radiation in an attempt to protect the living cells in your skin from further damage.

5— I don’t need sunscreen on cloudy or cool days.

False. Sunburn is caused by UV radiation from the sun’s rays, which can penetrate cloud cover regardless of temperature. And similarly, even though skin cancer typically develops on areas that are most frequently exposed to direct sunlight, it can also develop on areas usually covered by clothes. Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the skin, even on the soles of your feet, between toes, or in the underarm.

Despite the many myths, what we do know for certain is that when it comes to skin cancer, awareness and early detection saves lives. It is smart to have a suspicious spot or mole checked out—early detection is key to the removal of non-malignant skin cancers before they become problematic, and to successful treatment of malignant melanomas. Visit the Premier Surgical Associates Melanoma and Skin Cancers webpage to learn how to protect yourself, and your loved ones, with the A-B-C-D-E method of self examinations.

Premier Surgical Associates is the largest General and Vascular surgical group in the Knoxville region—providing comprehensive surgical care for skin cancer and other specialties—with referrals from across the entire East Tennessee region. To learn more about our physicians and specialties, visit Premier Surgical Associates online.