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Published on February 20, 2019

woman with moles on her skin

Dismiss These Skin Cancer Myths

It is the most common cancer we face, and often the most misunderstood. But knowing the facts take the place of mistaken ideas we may have.

Jenny Nelson, MD, Avera Medical Group dermatological surgeon offers her insight on common misconceptions:

Myth: Flat moles are OK, but the moles you have that rise above the skin’s surface are trouble.

Facts: Flat or raised like a dome – it doesn’t matter. When it comes to moles and skin cancer, Nelson said that a lesion’s texture is less important that its color, as well as changes in either color or shape. “In my experience, it’s just the opposite – 90 percent of melanomas I’ve treated in moles were flat,” she said.

Myth: Moles only mean skin-cancer trouble if they change color.

Facts: Color changes are less important than multiple colors in a single mole, such as both red and brown areas. Oddly shaped moles, especially ones which may not be circular should be examined, for example, if a mole has a “tail” shooting off in one direction, that’s not good.

Myth: Sometimes you just get pimples that never seem to go away and are apt to bleed.

Fact: Easily bleeding pimples that linger or return are often indicators of basal-cell skin cancers, one of the most common types of the disease. “Some people think if it’s not bleeding that it isn’t serious, but this type of skin cancer can appear as an itchy area, a shiny spot or a bleeding pimple that never seems to go away,” said Nelson. “These skin cancers are rarely fatal, but they are often disfiguring – they need to be examined and treated in a timely manner.”

Myth: You’re most likely to get skin cancer right after an extreme exposure to sunlight.

Facts: Skin cancers develop over time, and while a beach vacation or big sunburn will add to the damage, it won’t lead to immediate skin cancer. “It could take months or years to see a lesion develop. Extreme exposure does add to the overall toll,” Nelson said. “The damage and risk add up over time.”

Myth: The only places you can get skin cancer are those parts of you exposed to the sun.

Facts: “I’ve removed melanomas from armpits and feet – they can develop anywhere and are more related to skin type than sun exposure,” she said. “Your genetics play a big role, too, and while cancers develop on the hands and face, they can happen anywhere.”

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