Skin cancer survivor Emerson Plauché can speak to the importance of detecting skin cancer early.

A year after a previous diagnosis and surgical removal of a melanoma on his upper arm, Plauché noticed strange bumps on his abdomen. He wasted no time in heading straight to the dermatologist. PET/CT scans showed the melanoma had spread. Plauché was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic melanoma and started chemotherapy immediately.

“I never was one to sun tan,” said Plauché, but he acknowledged having an excessive number of moles. “I tried to always wear long sleeves and a hat to protect my skin from the sun, even when I was in the Army. Now I have follow-up PET/CT scans every six months. I’ve been cancer-free for the past three years.”

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. More than three million Americans will be diagnosed with it this year. Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are the most common. Melanoma, while not as common, can be far more serious. Seventy-five percent of skin cancer deaths are from melanoma.

“The most common areas for skin cancer to appear are those exposed to the sun,” said Dr. John Lyons, chairman of Mary Bird Perkins — Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center’s Skin Cancer Multidisciplinary Care Team.

“Protecting your skin from the sun’s rays lowers one’s risk of developing basal and squamous cell cancers, but not every skin cancer can be prevented. Melanoma can also develop on the soles of the feet, under nails and even in the mouth. Protecting your skin from the sun can help prevent some skin cancers, but you still need to regularly check your entire body for unusual or suspicious areas.”

Most skin cancers are curable in their early stages, so the Cancer Center’s MDC Team is urging greater awareness and education during May, National Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and throughout the year.

“The Skin Cancer MDC Team recommends everyone be cautious of exposure from the sun, especially avoiding the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” Lyons said. “We absolutely discourage use of tanning beds and strongly encourage wearing wide-brimmed hats, long clothing, using UVA-UVB sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and checking your skin once a month for changes.”

The Skin Cancer MDC Team is a communitywide team of surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, nuclear medicine doctors, dermatologists, Mohs surgeons, pediatricians, pathologists, nurses and allied health professionals who are working to enhance care for skin and soft tissue cancer patients and create a greater awareness for sun safety in the community.

For information on sun safety and skin cancer, visit www.mbpolol.org/skin.