Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Our expert, Saira George, M.D., takes on some common myths about this disease, and has some tips to reduce your risk.

Think you’re safe from skin cancer? It’s the most common cancer in the United States. It’s also one of the most preventable. The primary cause is too much sun or tanning bed exposure.

More than 2 million Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year. Most skin cancers, like basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, are highly curable. But one form – malignant melanoma – is much more serious.

The good news is you can reduce your risk for skin cancer. It helps to understand your risks and how to protect yourself. Get the truth behind some of these skin cancer myths.

Myth 1: Dark-skinned people don’t get skin cancer.

No one is immune to skin cancer. People of all skin colors, including  people who are African-American, Hispanic and Asian, can develop skin cancer.

While skin cancer occurs more frequently in lighter-skinned people, the death rates are higher in darker-skinned people.

“It is often diagnosed later, at a more advanced stage, because both doctors and patients may not even be considering the possibility of skin cancer developing on darker skin until it’s too late” says Saira George, M.D., MD Anderson dermatologist.

Myth 2: I need to get sun exposure to get vitamin D.

You don’t need to bake in the sun to get the vitamin D you need to stay healthy. You get enough of this essential nutrient from typical daily exposure and from food.

“Vitamin D is very important, and we’d be in a bind if the only way to get our levels up was through prolonged sun exposure,” says George. “Luckily that’s not the case. We can get Vitamin D from our diet, and avoid the increased skin cancer risks that come with excessive sun exposure.”

Myth 3: Only sun exposure causes skin cancer.

Sun exposure is the primary cause of skin cancer, but there are other causes:

– Ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure from tanning beds and occupational equipment

– Family history of skin cancer and other genetic factors

– Increasing age

– A weakened immune system

People with fair skin and freckles, and multiple or unusual moles also face a higher skin cancer risk.

Myth 4: When it comes to sunscreen, the higher the SPF the better

SPF protection doesn’t increase proportionately with the designated SPF number. SPF 30 absorbs 97% of the sun’s burning UV rays, while SPF 50 absorbs just slightly more – 98%. And, SPF 100 absorbs 99%. So, choose a sunscreen with at least an SPF 30.

“A higher SPF does give you a little extra protection, but it’s still not a perfect block, especially in the real world where we all tend to apply too little and not reapply,” George says. “Your best protection is to stay out of the sun, especially between the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and to wear protective clothing if you have to be in the sun.”

For the rest of the Myths read more at: MD Anderson Cancer Center

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