Q&A: Melanoma

February 04, 2017

In recognition of World Cancer Day, we are re-posting a Q&A we first published in July. Dermatologist Brett Shulman, MD answered several questions about skin cancer and how to reduce your risk.

 

Q: How is melanoma different from other skin cancers? What makes it more dangerous?

A: Compared to other skin cancers, melanoma has a significantly greater chance of being fatal. Because of its ability to travel to other parts of the body, early detection can save your life. While melanoma can kill you, it is preventable by minimizing UV exposure. It’s also detectable through frequent self-exams and screenings by the right physicians.

Q: What factors affect a person’s risk of melanoma?

A: Several factors can come into play. They include:

  • Genetics: Roughly 10-12 million people have a genetic trait that makes them prone to develop melanoma.
  • Additionally, fair-skinned people, those who consider themselves “burners,” “non-burners” or “light tanners” are more vulnerable.
  • UV exposure: People who do not utilize sunscreen and protective clothing increase their likelihood of developing melanoma.
  •  Blistering sunburn: Just one bad sunburn can lead to blistering and double a person’s risk.

Q: Does it help to get a “base tan” before a lot of sun exposure? Are tanning beds safer than sunlight?

A: There is no such thing as safe tanning. No tan will protect you from sunburn. The concept of a “base tan” is a marketing tool by the tanning bed industry.

Speaking of tanning beds, there is no industry standard for their use, strength or maintenance. Studies from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology have shown that as many as 70% of people exceed the maximum recommended exposure when they use a tanning bed.