Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana
Written by Giles Bruce
MERRILLVILLE — It’s that time of year when many of us are having fun in the sun — on the beach, in boats, at the ballpark — with the golden tans to show for it.
Skin cancer is often the farthest thing from our minds. But the disease, the most common form of cancer, is largely preventable.
There are the obvious ways not to get it: sunscreen, covering your skin with clothing, avoiding tanning booths.
But screenings are another option. As The Times’ health-and-fitness guinea pig, I got one of the free skin exams the other day at the Methodist Hospitals Oncology Institute at the Southlake Campus in Merrillville.
I changed into a gown, leaving my underwear on, before Jordan Stemer, a physician assistant with Forefront Dermatology, looked over my skin, head to toe, including my scalp.
Skin cancer, she explained, is mostly caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. However, it also can be brought on by tanning booths and sun lamps, as well as HPV.
If caught early, however, it is highly treatable, generally with the Mohs cancer removal surgery that is done in office and with a localized anesthetic.
Stemer recommends people see their dermatologist for a skin cancer examination annually, especially individuals with a family history of the disease and who have had long-term sun exposure, like construction workers, truck drivers and golfers. People who have had skin cancer generally go more frequently.
Stemer noted that each sunburn a person has had increases his or her skin cancer risk, particularly blistering sunburns.
Methodist Hospitals offers the free screenings once a year. The hospital system screened 46 people during the July 11 event I attended.
“Skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers,” said Gail Magsaysay, oncology navigator for Methodist Hospitals. “Early detection greatly increases the odds of successful treatment.”
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, however, has ruled there to be insufficient evidence to recommend skin cancer screenings.
Stemer noted that dermatologists are discovering skin cancer in younger and younger people, as early as the late teens or early 20s, likely because of the popularity of tanning beds. Overall, diagnoses of the disease are on the rise, in part because of better detection and greater awareness.
The three most prevalent forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (the most common), squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, which is the most deadly because it is apt to spread if not found early.
“Melanoma doesn’t have any preference for skin color or age,” said Stemer’s colleague, Sarah Anderson, also a physician assistant. “You can get melanoma at any time in your life.”
People should also examine their own skin for changes in moles and blemishes, Stemer said. They should keep in mind the “ABCDEs”: asymmetry, border irregularity, color variation, diameter (bigger than the head of a pencil) and evolution.
“If you have a spot you’re worried about, it’s not a bad idea to get it checked, so you can have that reassurance,” Stemer said.
Besides the screenings, Stemer and Anderson advise regularly using sunscreen with a sun-protection factor of at least 45 to 50, wearing rash guard (wetsuit-like) shirts when swimming, and staying out of those tanning beds.
“I don’t care if you don’t like your prom pictures,” Anderson said.