The 5 Biggest Misconceptions About Skin Cancer

Three years ago a friend who was a physiotherapist pointed out a tiny spot on my lower leg and told me to have a dermatologist look at it. I took up his advice and to make a long (medical) story short, that spot which looked so innocent to me, was already a far progressed melanoma.

In the following year, I heard so many misconceptions about skin cancer from people around me, which made me realize that there is such a big need to raise more awareness around this topic. Hearing these misconceptions motivated me to start my own foundation, Spot The Dot. Below are some of the most common misinformed reactions I received about my skin cancer.

1. "You must've tanned like crazy in your life, right?"

Ironically I never liked tanning, or staying out in the sun for that matter. I grew up in a family with a mom and two older sisters who spend most of the 80's tanning. I was the nerdy kid who liked to stay inside and read cartoons and draw, my mom even complained about me being so pale. She used to say, "honey, you could really use a tan!". When I got into punk and heavy metal in my teenage years my pale skin was a perfect way to rebel against the trend of being tan. When doctors asked me if I tanned a lot, I tell them, "I wasn’t in tanning studios, I was at Iron Maiden concerts."

2. "If you have skin cancer, you can just cut it away. Easy!"

A part of me, as well as other people, might have thought this about skin cancer at one point, and sometimes it is true for some people. The day the dermatologist told me I had melanoma I must’ve looked rather calm - I didn't understand what the consequences from this little skin removal could be - other than perhaps not being able to swim or stay in the sun for a couple of weeks. The doctor sat next to me, looked at me and said: "I can't say you will be okay, it might be, but your life will never be the same". It took me a while to understand how that was true.

3. "Oh it's only skin cancer and not something bad like breast cancer"

It often left me puzzled to see family and friends have this "oh luckily it’s only skin cancer and not a really scary cancer" idea in their head. I wanted them to take my medical journey seriously, and at the same time I did not want to worry them more than necessary. Sometimes I want to scream that there’s a 50/50 chance this will eventually kill me, and sometimes I want to be that super cool, strong woman who carries that fear on her own. More than ever, I feel weird when people compare cancer types as if we are in some kind of competition.

4. “Skin cancer looks super disgusting”

One of my own misconceptions before I got sick was based on the little information and booklets I’ve seen on skin cancer. The images in these booklets were mostly close-ups of very nasty looking big…things. They always looked so very disgusting and made me think: "Well, when you have THAT growing on your skin you’d run to a doctor for sure." Although this is not always easy to recognize right away, you can train yourself on what signs to look for.

5. “That’s a thing for pale nordic people only”

The most common misconceptions I see is the one that only pale people get melanoma. There are many things that can be said to disprove this and it is a very limited way of understanding. One very sad example I can think of is the fact that Jamaican legend Bob Marley died from malignant melanoma.

There are so many more misconceptions out there. Although not all of them are bad or harmful, we have to make sure we keep discussing them- whether that be through conversation, art, joking, or any other medium.

What are the most common misconceptions about your cancer type that you've heard? Photo courtesy of author.