reviewed 9/17/2018

Skin cancer: True or false?

One in 5 Americans will get skin cancer at least once. There are three major types, and the most deadly—melanoma—kills one person every hour. But most skin cancers can be prevented, and the more you know, the easier it may be to keep your skin safe.

True or false: Genetics don't really increase a person's risk for most skin cancers. Only exposure to the sun matters.

False. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning beds is a risk factor for all the most common types of skin cancer, including melanoma. But family history plays a major role in melanoma: Around 10 percent of people with the disease have a family member who also had it.

True or false: Darker-skinned people are more prone to skin cancer than people with light-colored skin.

False. Caucasians have a higher risk than African Americans of developing any of the three major types of skin cancer, but anyone can get them. People who have light-colored skin that freckles and burns easily, red or blond hair, and blue or green eyes are at especially high risk.

True or false: Melanoma is the least common kind of skin cancer, but it's the most dangerous.

True. The most common kind of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, followed by squamous cell carcinoma. However, these nonmelanoma skin cancers grow slowly and rarely spread to other parts of the body. That can't be said of melanomas, which are much more likely to spread when not found and treated early.

True or false: People with many moles have a higher risk of developing melanoma.

True. Moles are evenly colored spots that usually appear during childhood or young adulthood. Most moles are harmless. Some even fade away. But moles can turn into melanomas, so it's important to keep an eye on them.

True or false: Applying just 1 ounce of sunscreen is enough to help reduce skin cancer risk for whole day.

False. You do need to apply 1 ounce of sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, whether it's sunny or not. But you also need to reapply it every two hours and after swimming or sweating. This daily, proper use of sunscreen can help reduce skin cancer risk.

True or false: You should wear a baseball cap to protect your face from the sun's rays.

False. You should certainly wear a hat, but choose a wider-brimmed one that offers protection for the back of your neck as well as your face and head. (Think Panama hat, not baseball cap.) Experts also recommend wearing a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and UV-blocking sunglasses.

It's a good idea to have a professional skin exam at your doctor's office every year. But you should also examine your skin from top to toe every month, looking for new growths and new or changing moles.

What to look for

Get more skin cancer tips and tools

Sources: American Academy of Dermatology; American Cancer Society; National Cancer Institute; Skin Cancer Foundation

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