Setting the record straight: Skin cancer myths

By Kelly McCarthy

May 9, 2013 Updated May 9, 2013 at 11:27 PM EDT

(WBNG Binghamton) A deadly type of skin cancer will affect one in five people in the United States, although it's almost entirely preventable.

It takes just 10 minutes in the sun to get burned. Melanoma can be caused by the skin's mutations to that burn.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. and also one of the most preventable, according to local dermatologists.

"Wear an SPF 30 or higher everyday whether it's winter, spring, summer or fall." said Katie Weber, LPN at Southern Tier Dermatology. "That's the only way you're going to protect yourself from both the UVA -- the aging rays of the sun -- and the UVB -- the burning rays of the sun."

Doctors say the sooner the better when it comes to prevention. Weber suggests making a daily routine of protecting children's skin.

"Just slather them with sunscreen," Weber said. "And then they get used to it. They stop fighting it and then they end up doing it themselves. That's your best defense, is a really good offense."

It might be tempting to pick up tanning lotion with an SPF 8 before heading outside in the sun this summer. But doctors say even an SPF 30 will allow skin some color, and keep it healthy.

"I think dispelling some of these myths," said Dr. Sanjiv Patal, Physician M.D., "And making the public more aware of how to protect yourselves and what to do, I think that's probably the best way to get the message out."

Doctors say common misconceptions could put people at risk. Things like, do clouds in the sky protect the skin from harmful rays?

"The same principles hold true," Weber said. "The clouds do not prevent. I mean, they might filter a little bit of the UVB -- but very little -- and the UVA is not affected."

Patel says if a dark spot on the skin is always covered it doesn't rule out the possibility of skin cancer.

"Another myth is that It only occurs in sun-exposed areas," Patal said. "It's not true. It could occur in other areas of your body that are not exposed to sun."

People with darker skin types aren't off the hook either.

"Another myth may be that if you're a darker skinned individual that you're not at risk for skin cancer," Patel said. "Again, that's not true."

There is a way to enjoy the sun and to keep skin healthy. Wearing sunblock is the best protection, but reapply every two or three hours while outside.

The "ABCDE's of skin cancer" were developed to help people recognize harmful dark spots:

A: Asymmetry. Is there any asymmetry to the mole?
B: Border. Is it rough or round along the edges?
C: Color. Is there any color differential?
D: Diameter. Is it bigger than a pencil eraser?
E: Evolution. Does the dark spot change over time?