Ask the Advocates: What Is the Most Surprising Thing You’ve Learned About Skin Cancer?
Last updated: March 2021
Skin cancer is complicated and there are a number of myths out there about prevention and treatment. We asked our SkinCancer.net advocates about the most surprising information they've learned about skin cancer throughout their journeys.
Surprising skin cancer info & facts
Here is what our advocates shared:
Devin: Sun damage through clothing is possible
I had no idea that UV radiation could penetrate fabrics. Growing up I had always assumed that as long as I was wearing a t-shirt my body was protected, but after my diagnosis and a deep dive into UPF apparel, I learned how little protection some fabrics provide. Much like sunscreen, every fabric has a UPF rating which varies from 1 to 50+ (one being the worst or the least amount of protection, and 50+ providing the most protection). However, most fabrics are never tested making it impossible to know how much UV protection they provide. Most lightweight t-shirts provide far less than the recommended amount of UV protection – the type of shirts I’ve worn my entire life. Now I only wear products that are certified UPF 50+ if I’m planning on being in the sun. The UV protection level of my clothing was never something I even considered in the past, and something I think more people should and need to know about.
Judy: It's a continuous battle
The most surprising thing for me was that skin cancer isn’t a ‘one and done.' Before I was diagnosed with skin cancer, I never really gave it any thought. After I was diagnosed, I naively thought that once I had surgery to remove my cancerous area, life would go back to normal. It took a second diagnosis for me to realize that this was something I needed to pay attention to. That was 25 years ago. Twenty-five years later, I’m still battling skin cancer.
Renee: Mohs surgery is quite the process
I didn’t know anything about Mohs surgery before I had to have it for my first basal cell carcinoma. I was surprised about how Mohs is performed - that they remove a section of skin and test it for cancer cells while you wait in a waiting room, then call you back into the exam room to either stitch you up or remove another layer and test it. And they keep doing this until they have clear margins. I was completely surprised when I walked into the waiting room to have my first Mohs and I was surrounded by patients with huge bandages on their faces or arms or legs. It was terrifying to me.
I didn’t know what was happening or what I was seeing. Only once I went into the exam room and asked did I find out that they were waiting while their cells were being tested. I also didn’t know, until it happened to me, that you sit there without stitches, with an open wound that is covered by those big bandages, as you wait for lab results. And finally, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was left with a barely noticeable scar after having tons of stitches on my face!
April: You can't reverse skin damage
As far as skin cancer surprises, the rate of recurrence never ceases to amaze me. I was under the mistaken assumption with my initial diagnosis of melanoma that it was a “one-and-done” deal. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have struggled with basal cell carcinoma and countless precancers since 2007. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I believed if I stopped tanning and started using sunscreen, I could reverse the damage. The damage, unfortunately, is done. Many years have passed since that first dermatologist visit and first excision, and I am still shocked at all the new spots my doctor seems to find on my face and chest.
Rachel: Transfer flap capabilties
I did not know much about skin cancer treatment before starting my job in the dermatology office. The most shocking thing for me was seeing a transfer flap. The procedure is done when there is a large area of skin removed (commonly from the nose) and they need to bring a piece of skin down from another location (most of the time from the forehead) to close the hole. They do not immediately sever the connection between the skin’s original site and its new site, so the patient has a bridge of skin between the two places for a period of time.
Liz: You can get skin cancer under your nails
I would have to say the most surprising thing I have learned about skin cancer has been from personal experience. One of my daughters is a Professional Nail Artist. She has been elevating my manicuring to creative heights. Admonishing me for using my fingernails as “tools not jewels”, she has given me glorious gel manicures. After several months, I noticed a red spot increasing in size on my hand. After all my investigative actions, it seems that the gel nail drying, under a small UV light for just a minute, has uncovered the beginning of a pre-cancerous spot. Alas, that was the end of my gel nail journey. However, I still have the nicest looking and healthiest nails/jewels ever, thanks to my daughter!
The other surprising thing I have learned about skin cancer is “dry patch melanoma”. That one is concerning to me as I am one who has extremely dry skin. I am always on guard for checking out areas on my skin that do not respond to my usual remedies. My mantra has always been: When in doubt – check it out!
Do you sunscreen in the fall?