Common misconceptions about skin cancer clarified by Dr. Myrna El Shareef, Clinical and Procedural Dermatologist at Mediclinic, Al Sufouh
18 September 2023| Last updated on 26 September 2023
"The topic of skin cancer is dear to my heart and I grasp every opportunity to discuss it mainly because early detection could be life saving," started Dr. Myrna El Shareef, General and Procedural Dermatologist at Mediclinic Al Sufouh in Dubai.
The chance of a complete cure is much higher with early detection. Not only that, but the results of the skin cancer treatment would be more cosmetically pleasing for early small tumors as well.
"I will be discussing common myths I often get asked about by my patients. This is by no means a discussion of particular cases, so if you have any questions or concerns regarding the topics mentioned please make sure to discuss it with your dermatologist," she added.
Myth #1: Applying sunscreen with high SPF is enough protection from skin cancer.
This is one of the most common myths regarding skin cancer. The main aim is to avoid sun burns and extended sun exposure because this is what increases the risk of skin cancer.
So if you’re not seeking shade, wearing hats or protective clothing, avoiding sun exposure during peak hours, and you are intentionally sunbathing for extended periods of time, even when applying sunscreen, you’re not really protecting yourself.
In fact, the other protective measures mentioned above are more important than sunscreen. Applying sunscreen needs to be adequate and frequent, and this is often not the case.
Myth #2: Stopping the old habit of frequent sunbathing is enough to prevent skin cancer.
"I used to sunbathe a lot in the past but I no longer do at all now, so I am no longer at risk of developing skin cancer" is another myth.
Risk factors for skin cancer include, but are not limited to, repeated sun burns especially during childhood, and cumulative excessive sun exposure over the years.
When the skin is already sun damaged as a result, it becomes at a higher risk of developing skin cancer even when sun exposure is stopped later on in life.
This is why it is important for such patients to do a complete skin check at least once a year.
Myth #3: Too much sun is harmful but tanning beds are safe.
Tanning beds increase the risk of developing the most common types of skin cancer: squamous cell carcinoma by 58%, and basal cell carcinoma by 24%.
"Using tanning beds before the age of 20 increases the risk of developing melanoma by 47%, and the risk increases with every use," said Dr. Myrna.
She notes that "Scientific evidence proves, without a doubt, that there is no such thing as safe tanning beds."
It is important to note as well that the UV nail lamps also pause a similar risk on the skin and the nails. Using them very sparingly, wearing protective gloves and applying sunscreen are necessary precautions.
Myth #4: Common skin cancers only occur in old people.
According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma is now the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25 to 30.
Basal cell carcinoma is also on the rise in younger adults.
"I am now diagnosing young patients with skin cancer all the time at the clinic," noted Dr. Myrna.
She continued, "As mentioned earlier, prior tanning bed use, blistering sunburns and extensive sun exposure have been shown to be the main risk factors for developing these cancers even at a young age."
Myth #5: Skin cancer only occurs in fair skinned individuals.
People of all colours, including those with brown and black skin, may get skin cancer.
Acral lentiginous melanoma is the most common melanoma sub type in dark skinned populations, accounting for 40-60% of melanoma diagnosis in Asian and African-American skin.
Tips to prevent skin cancer in the UAE:
- Annual full skin check by a dermatologist is the minimum recommendation for everyone, at any age and for all skin shades.
- A monthly self check is also recommended, looking for any new spots or any change in existing ones.
- Keep a lookout for any non-healing, itchy or bleeding sores or rough or dry patches on your skin.
- Do not forget to check the nails looking for any lines or changes.
- When in doubt, please consult your dermatologist.
Authored by Dr. Myrna El Shareef.