U offers free skin cancer screenings

by Dylan Thomas

As the long, sunny days of summer approach, the University’s dermatology department is offering free skin cancer screenings Monday to raise awareness of the disease and its risk factors.

Peter Lee, a University dermatology professor, said last year’s screening found at least 32 people with skin cancers. That was approximately one in every 10 people that came, he said.

“This time of year, even though it’s only 50 or 60 degrees, you get more sun exposure now than in late August,” Lee said.

Depending on the risk factors and age, a person should perform self-examinations looking for skin cancer as often as once per month, Lee said.

Risk factors include a family history of skin cancer, the type or number of moles a person has, fair skin and heavy sun exposure at a young age, Lee said.

Those older than 40 or 50 should get skin exams as often as they get physicals, he said.

Contrary to what many people think, flat moles, not raised moles, are more likely to be melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, Lee said. Moles with irregular shapes or borders and very dark or multicolored moles could be a sign of cancer.

“You really need to look at moles that tend to be darker than your hair color or eye color,” Lee said.

He said people who do not have many moles will develop melanoma in areas that get a lot of sun exposure, such as the back, shoulders, legs or face. People with many moles to begin with can develop melanoma anywhere on their bodies.

Melanoma is the most deadly skin cancer, but also the rarest, Lee said. There is a greater risk with melanoma that tumors could spread to other parts of the body than with other cancers, he said.

Lee said basal cell carcinoma, the most common skin cancer type, and squamous cell carcinoma are both dangerous but not as aggressive as melanoma. Unlike melanoma, they do not derive from moles but are other cancerous growths.

All are treatable if caught early, he said.

The signs for each skin cancer type are different and described on the University of Minnesota Cancer Center Web site.

Lee said each American’s lifetime risk for melanoma is now one in 69, but melanoma rates are rising. He said instances of melanoma are under-reported, but approximately 50,000 new cases are found each year.

Lee said using sunscreen with a sun protection factor, or SPF, of 15 and wearing clothing to protect skin are important steps for protection. Most important, though, is just staying out of the sun.

“Of course, you want to practice all three in your daily regimen, especially if you have a high risk for any skin cancer,” Lee said.

Lounging on the mall Thursday, four University students enjoying the sunny and near-70 degree weather expressed concern about skin cancer but were unsure about what signs to look for or precautions to take.

Sophomore Alison Feik said one should be concerned “when you feel yourself getting crispy.”

Tyler Hall, a communications studies junior, said college-age people are less worried about skin cancer because of a “young and indestructible mentality.” He added that he might go to the free screenings.

The first-come, first-served screenings will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the fourth-floor dermatology department in the Phillips-Wangensteen Building.

Dylan Thomas welcomes comments at [email protected]