The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with white Americans having 20 times greater risk than African-Americans.
This comes as no surprise to Deborah Urry, of Easton, who was diagnosed in 2007 with melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer. “At first it just looked like a bug bite on the back of my right leg, maybe a mosquito bite,” Urry says. “It wasn’t painful, but it just would not heal. It turned out to be a stage 3 melanoma.”
Excision surgery is the first course of treatment for melanoma. Untreated, the disease will spread elsewhere in the body, most likely to the lymphatic system, lungs, liver and/or brain. If melanoma becomes advanced, the physician may suggest radiation, chemotherapy or immunotherapy.
Urry underwent three excision surgeries, the first two in one day at UM Shore Medical Center at Easton, and a third in Baltimore. More than a decade later, she keeps up with regular screenings and says she is relieved to have not had a recurrence.
In her younger years, Urry grew up on a farm and also loved going to the beach. “Suntan lotion back then then was more like tanning oil rather than sunscreen,” she says. “I still enjoy the beach but don’t tolerate the sun as well and, of course, I am very careful, using sunscreen and staying under the umbrella.”
At the Cancer Center at UM Shore Regional Health, the month of May – Skin Cancer Awareness Month – is a time to promote public understanding of the risks of skin cancer and strategies for prevention. To that end, members of the Cancer Center team are distributing informative skin cancer awareness flyers to retail outlets and community locations that draw people whose work or recreational pursuits keep them outdoors in the summer months. These include landscapers, watermen, farmers, construction workers and utility workers, lifeguards and beachgoers, gardeners, and golf and tennis players, or anyone who spends time in the sun.
“In past years we partnered with providers and staff at Easton Dermatology in Easton and Shore Dermatology in Cambridge to offer free skin cancer screenings, but because COVID-19, those screenings are out of the realm of possibility for now,” says Whitney Anders, Clinical Data Assistant for the Cancer Registry and Clinical Trials at the UM SRH Cancer Center. “So we are trying to reach people who are at greatest risk in places they normally frequent this time of year.”
The Cancer Center treats patients with melanoma as well as basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas of the skin. According to Anders, women age 50 and younger have the highest rates of melanoma. “Among younger and middle-age women, the popularity of tanning – whether at the beach, by the pool or in a tanning salon — is a big factor in the increase of melanoma,” she said.
But if caught promptly, skin cancers are treatable. This is true even for melanoma, which if detected and treated early, has a five-year survival rate of 99 percent. “It’s important to know the symptoms and be on the lookout for them,” says Anders.
Symptoms of skin cancer are often listed using the acronym, ABCDE:
A for Asymmetry (if you draw a line through the mole, the two halves do not match);
B for Border (uneven, jagged or notched edges);
C for color (multi-colored);
D for diameter (if the lesion is larger than a pencil eraser, although some melanomas can be smaller);
E for evolving (sudden changes in size, shape or color etc.).
It is strongly recommended that everyone have an annual checkup/screening with his or her physician, especially those who spent extended periods outdoors.
Anders also emphasizes prevention. “Skin cancer is so common and yet so avoidable with the right precautions,” she says. “Thoroughly examine your entire body monthly and see a dermatologist annually. Use sunscreen labeled SPF 30 or higher and reapply every two hours, especially after sweating or swimming, and use extra caution, such as long sleeves and a hat or visor, during the mid-day hours.”
For information regarding dermatologists and dermatologic surgeons in the five county region served by UM Shore Regional Health, contact Whitney Anders, 410-822-1000 ext. 5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.