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5 Common Misconceptions About Skin Cancer

February 13, 2016

Skin cancer comprises almost 50 percent of all cancer cases in the U.S. This year, more than 76,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. More than 3.5 million people will be diagnosed with basal and squamous cell skin cancers, which are more slow-growing.

Though skin cancer is the most common cancer type in the country, there are still several myths about the disease and its treatment. Here are five of the most common myths about skin cancer, along with actual facts to debunk these misconceptions.

Myth #1: All Physicians are Created Equal

There are many great skin cancer doctors in the U.S., but not all of them will fit your needs as a patient. When you’re first diagnosed with skin cancer, your immediate reaction may be to find a doctor or hospital, but it’s important that you be prudent and ask for advice before making a decision that could have a long-term impact on your care. You should begin by asking the doctor who diagnosed your cancer for his or her recommendations about the best specialists and/or hospitals and treatment facilities for your specific diagnosis. Many doctors in this position actually will give you a recommendation before you even ask.

Organizations such as the Commission on Cancer and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) also provide valuable resources for finding the best care providers. The Commission on Cancer has a list of more than 1,500 of the best U.S. cancer centers in cancer diagnosis and treatment. The National Cancer Institute also works with 50 U.S. cancer centers. You can visit its website to find the nearest NCI-designated cancer center in your community. For more helpful information, you also can review The American Cancer Society’s fact sheet on how to choose an oncologist.

Myth #2: All Slow-Growing Skin Cancers are Harmless

Some skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma, are slow-growing. However, that doesn’t mean they are harmless. If left untreated, these cancers can spread to other parts of the body. It’s important to see a doctor if you notice a lesion, spot or unusual growth on your skin. If it turns out to be a skin cancer, your doctor can devise the best treatment plan and follow-up care to address the cancer.

Myth #3: All Fast-Growing Skin Cancers are Fatal

Though some types of melanoma are aggressive and fast-growing, when caught early they can be highly treatable. According to the American Cancer Society, the overall 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 91 percent. Most melanomas are diagnosed at a localized stage, and the overall survival rate for these cancers are extremely high—at 98 percent.

Myth #4: I have melanoma. I need a total body scan

Though a full-body scan can help to accurately stage patients with melanoma, it isn’t always definitive, especially for early stage cancers. For early stage patients, a PET scan may not be able to pick up micro-mestasis—a small nest of cancer cells that have spread beyond the original tumor. Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor can help determine whether a total body scan is necessary for your treatment.

Myth #5 : All Melanomas Follow the Textbook Regarding the ABCDEs of Skin Cancer

Not all melanomas are created equal. Everyone’s diagnosis will differ, and so will their treatment. There are four different types of melanoma: superficial spreading melanoma, lentigo maligna melanoma, acral lentiginous melanoma and nodular melanoma. Each can differ in location, appearance and the demographic it affects. Even though these melanoma types may have specific characteristics, the disease may not affect each person in the same way. Doctors typically rely on a collaborative multidisciplinary effort to treat melanoma, one that puts the specific needs and situation of each patient first and foremost.

If you have any questions about skin cancer or would like to talk to a medical professional, contact us today. We’re here to help and give you accurate information about skin cancer and potential treatments.