Where will you be on Melanoma Monday?

It happens every first Monday in May – Melanoma Monday- a decades old tradition at the USF Clinic and a potential life-saver for patients!

USF’s Department of Dermatology & Cutaneous Surgery has held an “open-house” of sorts, openning their doors to the community for a night of free skin cancer screenings. By the hundreds patients come. The event brings together the university’s skin cancer experts and medical residents with folks from across the Tampa Bay area – many of them “Melanoma Monday” veterans. This year’s event falls on May 5th.

Melanoma Monday ’08
May 5, 2008
5:00 PM – 7:00 PM
USF Clinic – Zone A
12901 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.
Tampa FL 33612

“Melanoma Monday” is an annual event created by the American Academy of Dermatology to increase public awareness of this potentially fatal skin cancer. Dermatologists across the U.S.A. are donating their time and facilities to screen patients for melanoma,” says Neil Fenske, MD, Chair of the USF Department of Dermatology & Cutaneous Surgery. “Many of these patients have limited access to care and for some this is their very first total skin examination! Numerous lives have been saved over the years due to the efforts of dermatologists, and Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at USF Health is proud to be a leader in this endeavor.”

Dr. Mary Lien

Mary Lien, MD, Assistant Professor of Dermatology & Cutaneous Surgery, USF College of Medicine and Chief of Dermatology, James Haley V.A. Hospital in Tampa, has seen it all over the years. From a skin cancer patient only in elementary school to the woman who lost part of her face and ear because she ignored the signs of cancer for years. “Some people will say ”Oh it’s just a pimple.’ referring to something growing on their skin. Well the pimple has been there for four years! It’s not going anywhere,” says Dr. Lien. “The power of denial is incredible!”

Dr. Lien takes advantage of every opportunity to talk to people about the importance of skin cancer screenings. This past April 15th, she spoke before a crowd of approximately 200 employees from the Florida Department of Transportation- bringing along photos of fingers, faces, arms, legs, even a penis, plagued by cancer. “The photos are not intended to be gross,” she told the standing room only crowd, “but pretty power-point slides don’t help you remember. I want these pictures to be ingrained in your minds, so that if you see anything that looks like this (referring to a photo on the screen) then you will go to the doctor to have it examined.”

On this particular outing at DOT District headquarters in Tampa, Lien does her talk with Dermatology Resident Donald Stranahan, MD. Not one to just stick to powerpoint, at one point, Lien calls out for volunteers to demonstrate how to properly check one’s scalp for signs of cancer. DOT employee Susetta Cannon is among the volunteers. Lien and Stranahan telling the crowd that even in cases like Cannon’s, who has a full head of hair, skin cancer lessions can occur. Combing through the woman’s hair with their finger tips, they search section by section. Lien gives the “how to’s” aloud and then sends the volunteer on her way. “I feel better now,” says Cannon, smiling as she walks back to her seat.

April 15, 2008. Florida Dept. of Transportation Safety Meeting, Tampa, FL. From L to R: Dr. Mary Lien, DOT employee Susetta Cannon and Medical Resident Donald Stranahan-1st year Dermatology resident.

“There was a terrific ‘buzz’ from the attendees after the presentation! Dr. Lien’s message was taken to heart and very well received,” said Patricia Short, Finance and Administration Operations Manager, Florida Department of Transportation, District 7. “Being a melanoma surgical patient myself, over the years I have researched and learned a lot about skin cancer. Even so, Dr. Lien presented information that was new to me. I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to see her presentation.”

Skin Cancer 101
Caught in time, the cure rate for the most common skin cancers, Basal Cell Carcinoma & Squamous, is 90% – 95%. The key is early detection and treatment. No one knows the exact causes of melanoma. Doctors can seldom explain why some individuals get melanoma and others do not. What researchers do know is that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop melanoma. A risk factor is defined as anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a disease.

Below is a listing of factors & recommended measures for prevention provided by the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute.

Known risk factors for melanoma…

Dysplastic nevi:
Dysplastic nevi are more likely than ordinary moles to become cancerous. Dysplastic nevi are common, and many people have a few of these abnormal moles. The risk of melanoma is greatest for people who have a large number of dysplastic nevi. The risk is especially high for people with a family history of both dysplastic nevi and melanoma.

Many moles (more than 50):
Having many moles increases the risk of developing melanoma.

Fair skin:
Melanoma occurs more frequently in people who have fair skin that burns or freckles easily. Individuals usually have red or blond hair and blue eyes. More at risk than individuals with dark skin.

Family history of melanoma or skin cancer:
People who have been treated for melanoma have a high risk of developing a second melanoma. Individuals who have had one or more of the common skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma) are at increased risk of melanoma.

Family history of melanoma:
Melanoma sometimes runs in families. Having two or more close relatives who have had this disease is a risk factor. About 10 percent of all patients with melanoma have a family member with this disease. When melanoma runs in a family, all family members should be checked regularly by a doctor.

Weakened immune system:
Individuals whose immune system is weakened by certain cancers, by drugs given following organ transplantation, or by HIV are at increased risk of developing melanoma.

Severe, blistering sunburns:
Individuals who have had at least one severe, blistering sunburn as a child or teenager are at increased risk of melanoma. Because of this, doctors advise that parents protect children’s skin from the sun. Such protection may reduce the risk of melanoma later in life. Sunburns in adulthood are also a risk factor for melanoma.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation:
Experts believe that much of the worldwide increase in melanoma is related to an increase in the amount of time people spend in the sun. This disease is also more common in people who live in areas that get large amounts of UV radiation from the sun. UV radiation from the sun causes premature aging of the skin and skin damage that can lead to melanoma. Artificial sources of UV radiation, such as sunlamps and tanning booths, also can cause skin damage and increase the risk of melanoma. Doctors encourage people to limit their exposure to natural UV radiation and to avoid artificial sources.

How to protect yourself from melanoma caused by UV radiation…
Avoid exposure to the midday sun (from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) whenever possible. Experts say when your shadow is shorter than you are, protect yourself from the sun.
If you must be outside, wear long sleeves, long pants, and a hat with a wide brim.
Protect yourself from UV radiation that can penetrate light clothing, windshields, and windows, and UV radiation reflected by sand, water, snow, and ice.
Experts recommend sunscreen products that provide “broad-spectrum coverage.” Sunscreens are rated in strength according to a sun protection factor (SPF). The higher the SPF, the more sunburn protection is provided. Sunscreens with an SPF value of 2 to 11 provide minimal protection against sunburns. Sunscreens with an SPF of 12 to 29 provide moderate protection. Those with an SPF of 30 or higher provide the most protection against sunburn.
The label should specify that the lenses block at least 99 percent of UVA and UVB radiation.


“Hairdressers – Unexpected Allies in the Battle Against Skin Cancer”

Dr. Neil Fenske, Chair of USF Department of Dermatology & Cutaneous Surgery.
To link to Dr. Fenske’s Tampa Tribune columns on skin cancer prevention, click below.
– Skin cancer
– Sun screen abuse
– Scalp cancer
– Tanning beds

Click here to view National Institutes of Health on Melanoma

Story by Lissette Campos, USF Health Communications
Photography by Eric Younghans, USF Health Media Center