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Duke to Hold Free Skin Cancer Screening Clinic May 3

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- A free skin cancer screening clinic will be held at the Duke Center for Aesthetic Services on Monday from 1 to 4 p.m.

The screening clinic is sponsored by Duke's dermatologic surgery and cutaneous oncology unit and the American Academy of Dermatology as part of an annual campaign to encourage early detection and prevention of skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in this country. The clinic will be held on the second floor of the center, located at 1300 Morrene Road.

An estimated 1 million skin cancers will be diagnosed in the United States this year, accounting for one half of all cancer cases in this country. Dr. Jonathan Cook, screening director and director of dermatologic surgery at Duke, said many of the cases are due to increasing amounts of time Americans have spent in the sun during the past several decades.

While sun exposure is not the only risk factor, it has contributed significantly to the rise of the most deadly form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, doctors said. If not detected and treated in its early stages, melanoma can be fatal, said Cook. The other two common types of cancer -- basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma -- are rarely fatal but frequently leave scars when surgically removed.

"The rewards of prompt detection can be substantial," Cook said.

Although approximately 7,300 Americans will die from metastatic malignant melanoma this year, a large number of those deaths could be prevented with earlier detection and treatment. Very early melanomas are treated with simple surgical excision; as many as 99 percent of these patients can expect long-term survival. Delays in treatment can promote deeper invasion of the melanoma and significantly threaten the patient's survival, doctors said.

The key to early melanoma detection is regular, thorough skin examinations to identify new moles or suspicious changes in existing moles, both of which can be signs of melanoma, Cook said. Early detection of melanoma is crucial because once the cancer has penetrated below the skin's top layers, it can "metastasize" or spread quickly through the bloodstream or to other parts of the body.

Several risk factors predispose an individual to melanoma: excessive sun exposure, multiple moles, atypical moles and a personal or family history of melanoma. People lacking these risk factors should still have a thorough skin examination during their annual physicals and then should also conduct regular self-examinations in between to look for changes in the size, shape, color or texture of a mole. Doctors recommend using both a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror for more complete viewing of the back of the head, the back and the buttocks.

Self examinations or a dermatologist's examination can also detect basal and squamous cell carcinoma which, in rare cases, can be deadly. Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are characterized by flesh-colored bumps which can bleed, form sores, or in some cases, present no symptoms at all. Such tumors are commonly found in sun-exposed areas such as head, neck, hands and arms.

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