Dermatologists: Be on high alert for skin-cancer risks - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Dermatologists: Be on high alert for skin-cancer risks

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Posted: Monday, May 31, 2010 4:00 am

A survey released earlier this month shows most people don’t take the time to have their skin examined by a professional for changes that might indicate skin cancer.

The study, released by the American Academy of Dermatology, asked more than 7,000 adults nationwide about their knowledge, attitudes and behaviors toward tanning, sun protection and skin cancer detection.

As the Valley rolls into the official start of summer with Memorial Day, Valley residents should take some advice and take cover from the sun, local doctors say.

“There’s been a marked increase in melanoma,” said Dr. Mark Gimbel, a surgical oncologist at Gilbert’s Banner Gateway Medical Center. “Most of my referrals come from dermatologists. Squamous and basal cell cancers can be taken care of and treated pretty effectively by dermatologists. Melanoma requires bigger surgeries.”

Melanoma is also the most deadly of the skin cancers, Gimbel said.

A University of Arizona study determined in the late 1990s that Arizona has the highest skin cancer incidence in the country and is second in the world, only to Australia.

Care for the skin can begin years before cancer develops and is ultimately diagnosed, Gimbel said.

“One of the things that increases risk for melanoma is getting a blistering sunburn as a child. Sun protection for kids is extremely important,” he said.

And while studies have shown an even bigger risk associated with tanning beds, in Arizona, that’s not Gimbel has seen.

“It’s patients who used to oil themselves up, get severe burns or older people with chronic sun damaged skin, and it’s hard to see what’s actually changing, and they come in with bigger lesions,” he said.

Dr. Paul English, who owns and operates English Dermatology in Gilbert and Ahwatukee, has been in practice for 20 years.

“I have to say it’s been a slow learning curve, but I think people are becoming more educated,” about sun exposure and its dangers. “Unfortunately, the rates for skin cancer keep going up because most skin cancer is triggered and induced over many, many years of exposure. You pay for it 20, 30, 40 years later. We start changing people’s behavior, now we’re not going to see that reduction until 20 to 30 years from now.”

English said he’s also seeing younger patients with skin cancer.

“Before, I’d go 10 years without seeing it in a teenager,” he said. “Now, I’ll see it several times a year and a lot of people in their 20s. It used to be a disease of 60-, 70-, 80-year olds. Now it’s a disease of 20-, 30- and 40-year olds. There’s definitely been an age shift in the skin-cancer prevalence.”

Like Gimbel, English suggests sun protection starts with the very young. Infants’ skin is not developed enough for great sun exposure. Parents need to limit the time babies are in the sun.

Everyone needs to plan activities in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the midday sun, when ultraviolet rays are at their strongest.

“Then I encourage people to wear clothes. Here in Arizona with it so hot, people start stripping everything off. I think we need to learn from people in other countries who have lived for thousands of years in hot, hot climates. They wear loose fitting clothing to completely cover themselves,” he said.

Gilbert dermatologist Dr. Ruskin Lines, who does skin protection programs in schools as Captain Cutaneum, said if there is a history of skin cancer in a family, physician checks should start in the teen years.

“We’ve done an excellent job letting the public know that there is a thing called skin cancer and it’s bad and you need to get checked regularly,” he said. “What we’ve not done is a good job describing, ‘What is skin cancer? What does it look like?’”

Lines’ website,, includes photos from skin cancer patients.

English said changes in skin spots or moles can often signal a need to visit a dermatologist.

 “If they have a lot of moles they probably should come in early and be screened every year. Certainly most adults here in Arizona, especially if they work outdoors or are active in hobbies outdoors, should come in every year or every other year for a skin exam,” he said.

If skin cancer is found, depending on the type and size, skin can be excised by a dermatologist.

If it requires surgery by a surgical oncologist such as Gimbel, not only will the spot be removed, but skin around the spot. The cancer can spread to the lymph nodes, which decreases the chances for survival greatly, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Skin cancer

Dr. Paul English suggests people look for changes on their skin to determine if there may be a risk of skin cancer. Spots or moles should be checked for:

  • Asymmetry
  • Border irregularity
  • Color
  • Diameter
  • Evolving


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