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    Mole patrol on duty

    A holiday weekend at the beach might seem an unlikely place for cancer screening, but the Mole Patrol was busy.

    By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 2, 2002

    CLEARWATER -- Basking in the sun can turn your skin golden brown or rosy red. It can also increase your risk for skin cancer.

    It's a fact most folks at Clearwater Beach didn't want to ponder while they had fun in the sun Labor Day weekend.

    But 170 brave souls made their way to the the Mole Patrol at the beach's Palm Pavilion. There local practitioners from Morton Plant Hospital and H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute examined swimsuit-clad bodies for the telltale signs of skin cancer.

    "The longer you leave a cancer untreated, the higher the risk it's going to spread," said Sophie Dessureault, surgical oncologist from Moffitt Cancer Center, who participated in the screening.

    Both institutions have sponsored free skin-care screenings for several years, and a couple of years ago, they teamed up to provide services for Pinellas and Pasco counties. They also sponsored a similar event, Melanoma Monday, in May.

    Dessureault said that several melanomas have been discovered at the screenings over the years. Melanoma, a lethal form of cancer that spreads internally, can be cured when diagnosed and treated early.

    Even for those who didn't have suspicious moles, the screenings are important to raise public awareness of skin cancer and sun-smart behavior, Dessureault said.

    "We want to have nice skin when we're 80," said Isaac Wannos, 22, who came for the screening with Brittney Johnson, 20.

    Both said they have long lives ahead of them and want to keep it that way. "I don't want to die by something stupid," said Wannos, a Largo resident who has had four skin biopsies.

    Joan Schoenling and her husband, Bill, came to the beach to see sand sculptures, but were plucked from the shore by Mole Patrol volunteers.

    "We've been remiss and don't see our dermatologist as often as we should down here," said the 64-year-old Palm Harbor resident. Her screening made her rethink a tiny spot on her nose and now she plans to see her doctor, she said.

    "I think it's been there forever," said Dina Gregorich, 32, of Carrollwood, as she lifted the back of her T-shirt to show a mole, which recently became irritated, to Moffitt dermatologist Dr. L. Frank Glass. "I don't think it's cancer, but I would have it removed," he said after giving her the once-over with a magnifying glass. He suggested a biopsy as a precautionary measure.

    Gregorich, who had been worried about the mole, said the exam was a relief.

    "Normally, I might not be (concerned), but I have kids and family," said Gregorich.

    During the Mole Patrol, which ran from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, specialists who found suspicious moles suggested that participants see their doctors or call a referral line at Moffitt or Morton Plant. Beachgoers also received educational materials, samples of sunscreen and advice from cancer educator Debra McCreary, a registered and oncology certified nurse.

    "Eighty percent of cancers start before the age of 18," McCreary said. "I can't stress this enough. More than anything, protect your babies."

    Some thought basal and squamous cell skin cancers are not a big deal. But McCreary made sure participants learned that both can deform and disfigure. To make sure, she showed them pictures of people with cancerous lesions that had burrowed holes in eyes, noses and mouths.

    The best way to protect your skin is to use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher, she said. Generally, an SPF 15 means that you can expose yourself to the sun 15 times longer without burning. With the intensity of the Florida sun, most people will begin to burn in 10 minutes, McCreary said. So they need to reapply an SPF 15 about every 150 minutes or more often if they swim or perspire.

    And risky moles can show up anywhere, including on fingers and toenails and the bottoms of feet, said Tim McMahon, director of cancer services at Morton Plant Hospital.

    Although the risk of melanoma is lower among African-Americans, everyone is susceptible regardless of skin color, McMahon said.

    "The longer you're out in the sun without skin protection, the more you damage your skin," he said.

    The warning signs

    The most important warning sign is a change in shape or color of a mole or birthmark. Other warning signs are a sore that doesn't heal or a new growth. Here are the ABCD rules for early detection of melanoma and other skin cancers:

    A is for ASYMMETRY: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.

    B is for BORDER: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.

    C is for COLOR: The color is not the same all over. There might be differing shades of brown or black -- sometimes with patches of red, white or blue.

    D is for DIAMETER: The area is larger than 6 millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser) or is growing larger.

    Protecting yourself

    Avoid direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when ultraviolet rays are most intense.

    Cover up. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and clothes that cover as much as possible of the arms, legs and torso.

    Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15 and reapply after swimming or perspiring.

    Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps because they also are sources of UV radiation.

    Source: American Cancer Society

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