Skin cancer experts at USF Health zero in on USF Athletics.

For two hours, they looked for clues on dozens of backs, the soles of feet, scalps, legs and arms – the team from USF Health Dermatology on a mission to spot any signs of skin cancer on the bodies of faculty and staff in the university’s Athletics Department. With the “great outdoors” as their classroom, athletic coaches and staff know their chances of over exposure to the sun’s harmful rays are higher. On August 9th, the university’s “Health” side of the house helped take care of the “Athletics” side.

In the upcoming year, USF Health Dermatology will be adding the skin cancer screenings to Athletic’s “pre-participation physicals” for all USF student-athletes. In the photo, USF Bulls linebacker Brouce Mompremier gets advice from Dr. Neil Fenske, Chair of the Department of Dermatology & Cutaneous Surgery, and two dermatology residents.

For USF’s Assistant Athletic Director,Steve Walz, and USF Health’s Chairman of Dermatology, Dr. Neil Fenske, it was a marriage made in heaven. The two collaborated to organize full body screenings on location, at the USF Athletic Center – leaving employees no excuse to avoid the potentially life saving examinations. When it was all said and done, approximately 35 faculty and staff from the USF Athletics Department had been screened. To chairman Fenske’s surprise, nearly a dozen individuals will need further evaluation after skin legions were discovered during the examinations.

“Our coaches, athletic trainers, equipment managers, and field staff spend a great deal of time in the sun and we wanted to make sure that the exposure wasn’t hurting them, as well as educating them on prevention”, said Steve Walz, who is also Athletic’s Director of Sports Medicine. “Dr. Fenske has been an integral part of athletics for so many years as a team physician and a supporter that it was a great fit. His generosity and tremendous staff will help keep our athletics staff and student-athletes safe from the sun.”

Dr. Fenske, a longtime fan of Bulls athletics, calls it a privilege and a joy to screen “these wonderful employees in our athletics department, which I’ve been actively involved with for so many years and to personally interact with the new coaches, trainers and personnel”.

Dr. Fenske notes that the scalp and soles of your feet are often times the last places people check for skin cancer. In reality, melanoma can develop anywhere on the skin. The back is another spot that’s often ignored because self-examination is not easily done.

The skin screening, partnering USF Health Dermatology and USF Athletics, is the first of its kind. The results are strong ammunition for more frequent and expanded screenings of individuals involved with university athletics. Of the 35 or so faculty and staff screened, nearly half of them will require further evaluation because of worrisome legions discovered on August 9th.

“I was very concerned to see just how much sun damage was present. Several of them have lesions that definitely need to be followed up on by us and many need to be more aggressive about how they protect their skin”, said Dr. Fenske. “Many were doing just cursory protection, perhaps wearing a hat, but not sunscreen, or using sunscreen sporadically, but not protective clothing. In athletics, we talk about “seeking shade” whenever possible, but the truth is many trainers and coaches don’t do it as often as they should because it’s a challenge when you’re outdoors working with the athletes. I strongly believe this is the case with athletics faculty and staff at universities across the country”, said Dr. Fenske. “The good news at USF is that we have leaders like Steve Walz who go the extra mile to protect their people and request these screenings for the entire team. Walz came to us because he wants to help preserve the skin health of all of Athletic’s employees and he should be lauded for that. This should be the standard at universities across the country!”

“We can potentially save lives”, said Nurse Nancy Crespo, Department Manager of Clinical Operations in Dermatology & Cutaneous Surgery. Nurse Crespo and Chairman Fenske were part of the Dermatology team that conducted the full body screenings for the university’s Athletics Department. Also part of the team were Dr. Phillip Shenefelt, eight student-residents in dermatology, and medical assistants Susan Mayer and Alisa Vance.

For over twenty years, the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery in the university’s medical school has screened thousands of Tampa Bay residents during its annual “Melanoma Monday”. The free community event is held each year on the first Monday in May at the USF Clinic, located on the campus, near Bruce B. Downs Blvd. and Fletcher Avenue. On average, between 100 – 150 patients are screened during the two hour event.

Story by Lissette Campos