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No Mercy for Skin Cancer

No Mercy for Skin Cancer, California Skin Skin Insititute

They grew up using terms like “healthy tan” and thinking that the first sunburn of the season was a necessary step to lay a base for summer tans. Now, older generations of Americans are paying the price as that early sun damage leads to more and more skin cancer. Yet if recent statistics gathered by the CDC are any indication, many of them still haven’t adjusted their behavior.

“One thing is certain,” says Dr. Greg Morganroth, a dermatologist who performs more than 1500 skin cancer removal procedures annually. “People aren’t taking the necessary steps to protect themselves from this deadly disease.”

Morganroth sees the resulting damage firsthand every day. That’s why he and other South Bay dermatologists have volunteered to help with the annual free skin cancer screening program on May 17th at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View. Last year, of the 228 people screened at the one-day event, 43 (19 percent) had conditions serious enough to be recommended for biopsy, a procedure that collects a tiny piece of skin for microscopic analysis–and one turned up as melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

The high number of worrisome growths underscores the prediction that at least one in five Americans will have skin cancer in their lifetimes.

So do results of a series of CDC surveys conducted over three years (1999, 2003, 2004) showing that sunburn prevalence among U.S. adults increased significantly during the period–from 31.8 percent of all adults surveyed reporting at least one sunburn in 1999 to 33.7 percent in 2004–despite ever-increasing warnings about skin cancer and widespread availability of sunscreens and other prevention methods. Even more disturbing–considering that each sunburn magnifies cancer risk–is that more than 7 percent of those surveyed reported four or more sunburns the preceding year.

(The number of respondents ranged from 156,095 in 1999 to 296,027 in 2004.)

“Early detection is critical to successful treatment of melanoma,” Morganroth said. “Despite advances in treatment and detection, over 8,000 people die annually of melanoma–and nearly 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Add in the other, less lethal types of skin cancer, and over 1.5 million new cases occur annually in the U.S.”

In the face of those facts, why do people seem to actually be increasing their sun exposure? According to the CDC, several factors might be in play. People may be confused by inconsistent advice about how to take precautions, for example. The agency reviewed 20 popular Internet sites about skin cancer prevention and found differing recommendations about what is considered a safe amount of sun exposure, times of day to avoid the sun, how many sunburns increase the risk for skin cancer, and the best types of clothing to use for sun protection. The only three recommendations that were common to all of them were to wear broad-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.

(Two other major risk factors often aren’t cited: the fact that smoking and a family history of skin cancer both elevate your risk substantially.)

Confusion may play a role, says Morganroth, but another likely factor is that, especially for the Boomer generation, it’s difficult to accept the idea that sun exposure is unhealthy after being raised to believe otherwise.

“People don’t like to hear it, but the fact is that no amount of direct, unprotected sun exposure is ‘safe’ or ‘healthy,'” Morganroth said. “And even if you haven’t had recent sunburn or excessive exposure, skin cancer can develop from past exposure. That’s why regular screening by a professional is crucial. Although self screening is useful, the fact is that few people know what a cancerous lesion looks like.”

El Camino Hospital’s free skin cancer screening runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 17 at the hospital’s new Cancer Center in the Melchor Building. To participate, you must pre-register by calling 800.216.5556. While the hospital hopes to double last year’s number of screenings, that still means limited space, so early registration is advised.

About El Camino Hospital

Located on a 41-acre campus in the heart of Silicon Valley, El Camino Hospital serves residents in the El Camino Hospital District — Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Cupertino and portions of Sunnyvale and Palo Alto – as well as those in surrounding communities. Established in 1961, the hospital has delivered the highest level of medical services to the community for more than four decades. Its quality programs and high customer satisfaction rankings have been recognized locally and nationally. In 2005, 2006 2007, and 2008 HealthGrades, a national rating company, named El Camino Hospital a Distinguished Hospital for Clinical Excellence, placing it in the top 5% of hospitals nationwide. El Camino Hospital is the first hospital in the Bay Area to have been designated as a nursing magnet hospital by the American Nursing Credentialing Center. Specialties include cardiac care, dialysis, cancer care, maternal child health services, orthopedics, neurosurgery and behavioral health. The hospital is also recognized as a national leader in the use of health information technology to promote patient safety, including barcoding, computerized order entry, electronic medical records and wireless communications.

To learn more about El Camino Hospital and its services, visit their web site at www.elcaminohospital.org.

Join Dr. Morganroth on Saturday, May 17, 2008 for a FREE skin cancer screening at The Cancer Center at El Camino Hospital, Melchor Pavillion, located at 2490 Hospital Drive in Mountain View, California.

Call 800-216-5556 to preregister for this event.

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