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Skin cancer screening could save a life

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By Calen McKinney

It could save someone's life.

And that's just one of the reasons Taylor Regional Hospital will soon offer a free skin cancer screening.

Appointments for TRH's first skin cancer screening, set for Thursday, Sept. 12, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Cancer Center, are already booked.

However, because of overwhelming response, hospital officials say names are being taken to reserve spots for the next screening.

Nevertheless, those who want to attend the screening can do so and receive some free important information about skin cancer and how to protect themselves from the sun.

Drs. Robert Romines and Graham Englund with Taylor Regional Surgical Associates and Dr. Michael Bass with Taylor Regional Plastic Surgery will be performing the skin cancer screenings.

Nichole Gwilliam, director of education at TRH, said the 48 appointments allotted for the screening were filed very quickly - and even before the hospital began advertising the screening.

"We thought that it would fill up," she said. "We thought it would take longer than that."

She said the screening being completely booked prompted officials to discuss hosting another screening to accommodate those who weren't able to get an appointment for this session.

"It just surprised us," she said. "It seems like within hours it was booked."

In addition to the screenings, Gwilliam said, a representative from the American Cancer Society will attend to educate about skin cancer and sunscreen. She said the public is invited to attend. Appointments aren't required to receive the free cancer information.

Gwilliam said the idea of hosting a skin cancer screening came after a community health needs assessment done last fall revealed that residents want to be educated more about health issues.

" ... That was a need for the community," she said.

So, Gwilliam said, hospital officials came up with the screening to help residents know more about skin cancer, which, when caught early, is very treatable.

Gwilliam said the hospital's Learning & Resource Center offers classes about cancer a few times each year, but hospital officials believe a free screening might provide another incentive to get residents to attend.

At the screening, Gwilliam said, those who have appointments will meet with Bass, Romines or Englund and have them examine any suspicious moles or spots on their body. She said the doctors will tell the residents if they should be concerned about the spots. There will be no actual testing.

"They're not going to be performing anything there," she said. "It is up to patients to follow up."

Gwilliam said she believes it's very important for residents to have their skin checked for forms of cancer.

"Melanoma is a very serious thing and it is life threatening," she said.

And those who have appointments at the screening could be told information that might just save their life. With cancer, Gwilliam said, it's very important that people begin treatment early.

"Time is everything," she said.

Sherri Angel, director of medical oncology services at TRH, said staff members at the TRH Cancer Center have treated some skin cancer patients, though doctors typically refer patients to other centers. That's because clinical trials are often available to help skin cancer patients, Angel said, and TRH can't do such trials.

She said skin cancers are often removed for testing and then patients begin some form of treatment, from chemotherapy to radiation.

Skin cancer, she said, is the most common form of cancer in the United States. And that's why it's so important for residents to be familiar with the spots and moles on their body, Angel said.

"Because skin cancers don't all look the same," she said.

And if any of them change, she said, an appointment should be made to have a family doctor, ear, nose and throat specialist or dermatologist examine the place.

Angel said those who are exposed to the sun a lot might be at a higher risk for skin cancer. However, she said, skin cancer is sometimes hard to detect because those who have it might not feel they are sick.

"And they don't need to wait for it to hurt, because skin cancer rarely causes pain," she said.

If caught early, Angel said, skin cancer is one of the most treatable kinds of cancer. She said it accounts for less than 1 percent of cancer deaths and is cured in 85 to 95 percent of cases.

But TRH CEO Jane Wheatley said skin cancers can often be overlooked, and that's part of the reason hospital staff want to offer the screening.

"We're looking for ways that we can offer health care to the community," she said.

Gwilliam said Bass, Romines and Englund, in addition to many TRH staff members, are volunteering their time for the screening.

"We're very lucky in our area to have such good physicians ... who want to take their time and volunteer to do this."

And Gwilliam said she believes the hospital will offer skin cancer and other screenings as long as there is a need in the community.

For more information, or to register for an upcoming screening, call the TRH Cancer Center at 789-9999.