After years of watching his wife and daughters take sun protection
seriously—hats and sunblock were part of their regular routine, along
with visits to a dermatologist—David Duckworth took advantage of a
cancer screening to see what a specialist might make of the
freckles and dark spots he could easily see on his face, arms and shoulders.
As it turned out, those were the least of his worries. "It was
my chest, where I hadn't really noticed anything, that the doctor
picked up on right away," said Duckworth, a high tech mergers and
acquisitions professional. Stanford dermatologist Justin Ko, MD,
had spotted what he was pretty certain was basal
cell carcinoma, just below Duckworth's left collarbone.
The encounter with this most common kind of skin cancer was
Duckworth's wake-up call, one that dermatologists wish all of us might
hear before any evidence of disease is found. The reality is that the
longer a skin cancer goes without detection, the more likely it is to
become invasive and aggressive—and that the earlier it's treated, the
more likely it is to be completely curable.
Screening Makes Sense
On Saturday, June 1, Stanford will host its annual free skin cancer
screening at the Stanford Medicine Outpatient Center in Redwood City.
Since that facility opened in 2009, the event has become an annual
tradition there, enlisting dozens of dermatology
specialists to do full body exams of those who arrive between 8
a.m. and 11:30 a.m. In particular, people with a family history of
skin cancer; many or atypical moles; or fair skin and excessive
exposure to the sun are recommended to be screened.
Duckworth, whose complexion might be called fair to medium, grew up
near a beach. "When you're a kid, you don't pay as much attention
to sunblock as you probably should," he said. As an adult, on
many treasured trips to Maui, "I probably didn't reapply sunblock
as often as I could have. I know I've had some sun burns I probably
could have avoided."
The driving force behind cancer in the skin is the sun's ultraviolet
light, in two of its three forms, UVA and UVB. Even on darker days or
while in a car or house, UVA penetrates through clouds and glass to
damage the skin's DNA and allow cancer to take hold, Ko said. The
other cautionary note he shares is that developing skin cancer once
means a 44 percent risk for developing it again. What he values about
dermatology, however, is that screening is so easy. "Medical
professionals—or patients themselves—can see things growing and
changing. There's nothing standing between us and the skin." For
high risk patients especially he recommends that spouses or another
friend or family member check those areas that aren't easily seen
without such help.
A Sensible Change in Behavior
Since Ko removed Duckworth's basal cell cancer, that laid back
attitude has evolved into proactive prevention He had long taken other
precautions to protect his health. "I don't smoke cigarettes, I
eat fruits and vegetables and I do other things for my lifestyle to
avoid diseases, but I never really thought about taking care of my
skin as a healthy choice. I want to live a long time and see my kids
grow up and have kids of their own. Taking care of my skin is one of
those things that I've added to my list of healthy choices I need to
do every day, like brushing my teeth and taking my vitamins. I put on
sunblock and wear a hat if I'm going out for a day in the sun to a
ballgame or to the pool. And if I go to the beach, instead of spending
all day out in the blazing sun, I might find a nice little palm tree
to chill out under."
He's also begun to nudge others, too. "Skin protection is
something I'm starting to talk about to my friends and family,
especially for men, as they get older," Duckworth said. "You
need to take precautions and you need to see a dermatologist on some
type of regular basis. By doing that, you'll be able to rest
easier—that is one less thing you need to worry about."
The Stanford Outpatient Center is located at 450 Broadway, Redwood
City. The screening runs from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., in Pavilion B, 4th floor.