Busting the top skin cancer myths

Local dermatologist debunks misconceptions about moles, melanoma, burns

By Ashley Harding - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - When the sun is out and the temperatures are high, spending time outdoors is a no-brainer.

With as much time as Floridians typically spend in the sun, the risk of skin cancer is always something to think about.

Dr. Jonathan Kantor, a local dermatologist with offices in Jacksonville and St. Augustine, said skin cancer prevention isn’t something any of us should take lightly. 

“If a doctor offers you a full skin exam, you really should take it,” Kantor said. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve ended up finding the melanoma in a spot that the patient had no idea they even had.”

Kantor said there are many things about melanoma moles that may surprise you. For one, he said, many melanomas are found in places that aren’t usually exposed to sunlight. In fact, many are in places patients wouldn’t even notice without a second set of eyes. 

“Even though we talked a lot about sun exposure and melanoma, you can get melanoma anywhere,” Kantor said. “Even where you don’t get any sun.”

What to look for

A: Asymmetry.
B: Border. Are the borders fuzzy or vague at the mole? 
C: Color variation. If there is brown and black, that should be a concern. Red is also a concern.
D: Diameter. Is it bigger than a pencil eraser?
E: Evolving. If it appears to be changing, you should pay attention to it.

Another big melanoma myth to bust is how a cancerous lump feels. Kantor said when doing a self-check, people are often looking for a bump.

“Many, many, many melanomas are flat. About half of melanomas come from a pre-existing mole, half just (come) up out of the blue,” Kantor said. “But again, most of the time they’re going to look flat. At least in the beginning.”

Skin cancer myths aren’t limited to moles. Kantor said some people are under the impression that getting a burn around the start of summer is a good thing. 

“A lot of us know our parents and grandparents used to say, ‘Oh, you’ve got to get that first burn of the summer and then you’re going to be fine for the rest of the time,’” Kantor said.

He said that is simply not true. 

“Getting that sun at that level early on, getting those burns probably does increase your chances of a risk of skin cancer,” Kantor said. “So, you’re getting a big, UVA, UVB hit as well.”

Kantor also said some people might be tempted to take ibuprofen or some other type of anti-inflammatory. He advises patients to speak with their doctor before doing that.

Another myth to bust is the idea that people think you need to stay outdoors for a while to get a good dose of Vitamin D. He said being outside for 10 minutes just a couple of times a week is plenty. 

“The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people who do need Vitamin D supplementation get it primarily from nutritional sources,” Kantor said. “Or do vitamin supplementation rather than try to seek out the sun.”

What about sunscreens? Kantor suggested people look for sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. He said chemical sunscreens can also be used. His rule of thumb for patients is to reapply every 90 minutes to two hours. 

If you have questions or concerns about anything skin-related, you should go to the pros.

Kantor said whether you should see a doctor depends on factors like family history and personal exposure to sunlight.

He said if you’ve got a history of atypical moles in your family or a family history of melanoma, you should consider seeing a doctor early. This could even be your primary care doctor if a full skin exam is available in their office. 

Ashley's personal experience

After noticing a concerning mole on my back several months ago, I decided it was time to see a doctor.

I admit I’m very stubborn about seeing doctors for any type of ailment. But this was something I had put off for too long.

After inspecting it twice, Kantor said the mole needed to be looked at more closely. He ordered a biopsy.

Approximately one week later, the results were in: It was benign!

While I was certain it was not cancerous, the fact that Kantor felt it needed a closer examination was eye-opening for me.

It showed me that while I believe myself to be healthy, I am not invincible. None of us is.

When it comes to your health and well-being, don’t take any chances and do not wait for a problem to just go away. 

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