7. You're not fooling anyone with your tanning-bed habit — especially your skin: Despite what the salon receptionist may say, there's no evidence that browning yourself in a bed is any safer than doing it at the beach. "Even though there are federal guidelines for the amount of time someone should spend in a tanning bed, we know these are not always followed," says Michael J. Franzblau, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology (emeritus) at the University of California, San Francisco. The numbers tell the story: People who frequent tanning salons are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell cancer and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell. If you're still an indoor sunbather — a recent survey shows that over 15 percent of women in their 40s and 10 percent in their 50s and early 60s use tanning beds — stop now. But even if you've given up the habit, you could be in trouble. Exposure to tanning beds before age 35 significantly increases your risk of melanoma. Protect yourself by being vigilant about monthly self-exams and yearly derm checks.
8. Like children, skin cancers don't always follow rules: The ABCDE rules for melanoma have been well publicized, but not all melanomas conform. One type, amelanotic melanoma, for example, has no brown or black. Another kind, nodular melanoma, is often symmetrical, with fairly regular borders and few colors, says David Polsky, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of dermatology and pathology at NYU Medical Center. And invasive melanomas can be smaller than six millimeters — the guideline in the ABCDE rules. The rule for you: Don't dismiss an odd-looking or changing mole because it doesn't resemble the textbook example; show it to a dermatologist.
9. If you're dark skinned, skin cancer is far less common — and far more likely to be fatal: No one's sure why, but among African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics, UV radiation does not play as strong a role in squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma as it does in Caucasians, says Hugh Gloster, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at the University of Cincinnati. He has found that non-Caucasians are far more likely to develop melanoma on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands than on areas that are more heavily sun-exposed like the face and chest. That and the likelihood that doctors aren't looking for skin cancer among dark-skinned patients means the disease may be diagnosed at a later, more dangerous stage, say experts. Since UV rays do play a part in all skin cancers, and basal cell is an equal-opportunity enemy, people of all skin shades need to protect themselves in the sun.
10. You really can get skin cancer where the sun don't shine: The same human papillomavirus (HPV) that's responsible for cervical cancer can cause squamous cell carcinoma of the genitals. While squamous cell growths have at least a 95 percent cure rate overall, those in the genital region tend to be found later, which lowers your odds of survival, says Martin A. Weinstock, M.D., Ph.D., professor of dermatology and community health at Brown University. In a recent review of national mortality records, he found that non-melanoma skin cancers on the genitals, though much rarer than those on other parts of the body, caused about as many deaths. Women were particularly vulnerable; roughly three times as many females as males died of this cancer. Be sure to check the genital area when doing your monthly skin exam, advises Dr. Weinstock. If anything looks suspicious, show a dermatologist.
11. Your husband may not be much help around the house, but when it comes to skin cancer, he could be a lifesaver: Working with a partner significantly ups the regularity of skin exams, reports June K. Robinson, M.D., professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. And that could make all the difference: Previous studies have found that melanoma deaths could be lowered by as much as 63 percent if people performed monthly self-exams.
12. Painted toes look pretty, but what lies beneath may be deadly: Melanoma of the foot can hide under and around the nails and between the toes. And because this cancer has usually spread by the time it's diagnosed, it has a fatality rate of 50 percent. If you polish your toes, remove the color at least once a month and inspect your whole foot, including the sole. Also, don't forget sunscreen — on the tops and soles of the feet, says foot and ankle surgeon Neil Campbell, D.P.M.