Amy Forman Taub, MD quoted in US News and World Report: Common Myths About Skin Cancer Debunked

November 6, 2014
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US News and World Report
"Common Myths About Skin Cancer Debunked"
Nov. 6, 2014

 

"Shannon Doan-Duff was a classic skin cancer candidate. Red hair, blue eyes, skin so pale she compares it to raw chicken, and lots of freckles.

Doan-Duff, who lives in Harlan County, Kentucky, had gotten burned as a child a couple times visiting her grandparents in Hawaii, and she used tanning beds every week during law school and leading up to her wedding. Her grandfather died of melanoma, and her uncle suffered from it. But it never occurred to Doan-Duff that she, too, was at high risk for the disease, and until she was 42 years old, she’d never had a skin examination.

So when the odd-looking spot just above Doan-Duff’s collarbone appeared, she dismissed it. “I made every excuse in the world,” like just another freckle or an age spot, she says.

But when Doan-Duff’s colleagues were alarmed by the spot one Friday afternoon last January, she decided to get it checked out. One of those colleagues had herself suffered two bouts of skin cancer – basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, the less deadly forms of the disease. The following week, Doan-Duff was diagnosed with the other one: that old family foe, melanoma. “I know five people who have melanoma, and only two are alive,” she says. “I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Will I live to see my daughter’s 19th birthday in May?’”

Fortunately, Doan-Duff’s cancer was early stage and treatable with the standard excision. She uses sunscreen religiously and gets a whole-body skin examination every three months, which she will have to do the rest of her life. “It’s a small price to pay,” she says.

Like many people, Doan-Duff believed a lot of myths about skin cancer until she was diagnosed with it. Here are some common misbeliefs, debunked:

"It’s just skin cancer."

This was the common reaction Doan-Duff got when she told people – her husband included – that she had skin cancer. “No one would ever say that about breast cancer,” she adds. With skin cancer, there’s this idea that you can scrape, burn or cut it off, and you’re fine, says Vernon Sondak, chair of the department of cutaneous oncology at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. “Many times that’s true, but not all the time, and not for all types of skin cancer.”

That misconception feeds into another myth that all skin cancers are the same. There are three distinct types. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form, striking about 3 million people each year, says Amy Forman Taub, a dermatologist in Lincolnshire, Illinois, and spokeswoman for the Skin Cancer Foundation. She adds that it's slow-growing and usually not fatal. The spots are often flesh-colored or reddish (sometimes with blood vessels inside) and shiny, and they need to be surgically removed. Squamous cell carcinoma is less common and typically strikes older adults, Taub says. The spot looks like a wart or a scab, and it's treated with surgery and radiation. Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, and it's also the only cancer that is on the rise, especially among 20-somethings. “We don’t totally understand why,” Taub says." Read More.