Common myths about squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) may be the most common form of skin cancer, and one of its most curable forms, but there are several myths associated with it. These myths have a negative effect and may even cause a higher incidence of cancers and cancer-related deaths than is necessary. These myths arise from ignorance about the fact that there is more than one kind of UV rays, and results in people not taking sunscreen application seriously. Here are some of the most common myths which, if busted, can check the rise of SCC by creating greater awareness about skin cancer and sunlight.

I don’t have white skin, I can’t develop squamous cell carcinoma

It’s true that people of lighter skin are more likely to develop skin cancers, especially BCC (basal cell carcinoma) because they lack the protective pigmentation that darker skinned people have. However, darker skinned people are still vulnerable to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), especially the kind that develops from cuts and bruises, and melanoma. If you have a history of long sun exposure, you are at risk.

Dark skin doesn’t burn as easily as light skin, but that doesn’t lower the chances of cancer. In fact, your skin doesn’t even have to burn in order for you to be vulnerable to the disease. Sun exposure is not always the only reason for cancer, which is why cancer growths can sometimes occur on parts of the body which are not exposed to the sun.

It’s safe to tan indoors

In fact, tanning indoors can be the worst thing you can do if you want to avoid cancer. People think controlling the dose of UV they receive protects them, but the truth is the controlled dose from the tanning lamp is highly concentrated. The use of artificial tanning devices that emit UV rays, such as tanning beds and tanning lamps has gone up. Those who tan often (an estimated 28 million each year in USA alone) with the new high pressure sun lamps can receive as much as 12 times the UV dose they receive annually from the sun. Accordingly, the American Academy of Dermatology discourages the use of tanning beds. A study conducted as early as 2001 in Lebanon had found that growth of nonmelanoma skin cancers (such as SCC) may be aggravated by indoor tanning.

Knowing SPF rating is enough to protect me from UV rays

What you don’t know is that though your sunscreen protects you against UVB rays (the kind that causes most sunburns and the ozone layer can keep out only some of), there is another kind of UV rays to be afraid of: UVA (UVC is blocked by the ozone layer, thankfully). UVA is capable of deeper penetration in the skin and has been recently proved to be as harmful as UVB.

Sunscreen SPF ratings may give you the incomplete picture. Most commercially available sunscreens have a narrow range of protection. It’s very likely that the SPF rating on your sunscreen only tells you about protection against UVB. To receive complete protection, you must use broad spectrum sunscreens that will protect you both from UVB and UVA. You must also use it liberally, which is something that people often don’t do in order to avoid the stickiness that comes with it.

I’m young, I’m not vulnerable to skin cancer

Many people believe, wrongly, that only the elderly are vulnerable to carcinomas. It’s true that like most diseases, the older we grow the more vulnerable we are, squamous cell carcinoma has been found more often in those above the age of forty. However, the incidence of the cancer in children and young adults is on the rise. It’s more than age that influences SCC. Smoking, light skin, tanning beds (sometimes begun at the age of 7), genetic conditions, poor immunity and other skin conditions can all affect the patient’s vulnerability to SCC.

I don’t have to fear squamous cell carcinoma, it’s the mild relative of cancers

Squamous cell carcinoma is one of the most common (20 percent of all skin cancers are SCC) and most easily curable form of skin cancers. It’s a nonmelanoma cancer, but it should not be underestimated. Both SCC and BCC (basal cell carcinoma) can cause heavy tissue damage and disfigurement. Moreover, SCC can metastasize. This means that it can spread to other organs. Such a situation can become deadly if not treated in time. SCC can grow quickly and spread to other organs, unlike BCC, and it is responsible for killing 5 percent of those who suffer from the disease. Therefore it’s important that even SCC be diagnosed early and then treated promptly in order to avoid future complications.

The sun can’t harm me on a cloudy day

Just because the sun doesn’t make deep shadows doesn’t mean that you are completely safe from UV rays. More than 80 percent of UV rays can penetrate through the fog and clouds, and people are more vulnerable than they realize, even on days when the sun doesn’t show itself. On lightly overcast days, the UV ray penetration can be as much as on clear days. Only heavy cloud cover and intermittent scattered clouds can reduce it: the amount of radiation will rise and fall as the clouds pass overhead. But, remember that you can get sunburn even on a cloudy day. One way to be prepared is to always make a liberal use of sunblock, whether the sky is sunny or overcast.

Only the parts of my skin that are exposed to the sun are vulnerable to squamous cell carcinoma

This is not true. While BCC usually appears on the sun-exposed parts of the skin, other skin cancers can affect any part of it. It can affect the underside of your feet, on the palms of your hands, and underneath your toenails and fingernails. Like melanoma, squamous cell cancer can occur on any part of the body, not only the parts that are usually exposed to the sun. It can occur on a part of the body that has experienced trauma. These include sores, burns, scars that have not healed, parts exposed to some chemicals. Chronic skin inflammation and other conditions can also make a person vulnerable to SCC.

I need the vitamin D the sun gives me

It’s true that the sun will increase the levels of much-needed vitamin D in your body, but the price to pay for it, if the UV ray exposure causes cancer, can be too high. You may be vitamin D deficient, but exposing yourself to the sun is not the answer. You can easily obtain it from dietary supplements such as milk, cereals, yoghurt and fatty fish. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology advises nutritional sources and food supplements for vitamin D requirements. Besides, you don’t need to sunbathe for hours in order to receive the amount of vitamin D required by your body on a daily basis. Usually, only 10 minutes of sun exposure a day are enough for the day’s needs of vitamin D. Keep this is in mind and you won’t be courting cancer willfully.

My car windows protect me from the sun’s rays

Your window is only equipped to block UVB rays, therefore whether you are indoors or in your car, your windows can let in enough radiation to cause sun burn. That is, unless you use a special window film that is made to block both UVB as well as UVA radiation (you will find that these films are popular in museums that want to protect artwork and exhibits from solar radiation damage).

In order to protect yourself and your family from stray UV rays that can, with time, cause the growth of SCC, ensure that your windows are protected with a wide-spectrum film. Also, it is advised that you use sunblock even when you are indoors, and do so everyday.

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