Campaign focuses on skin cancer prevention at start of summer

By Michael Hill

It’s “Don’t Fry Day” at St. Peter’s University Hospital — a play on words for a serious, national campaign and invitation to screen for sun damage, a precursor to three kinds of skin cancer.

“What you’re looking for is anything purple or brown,” Community Health Specialist Jennifer Ryan said

Megan Flynn, who’s a registration representative at St. Peters, was the first in line for the Derma Scan. In seconds the ultraviolet light turned most of her face purple.

Afterward, some advice for Flynn: avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., wear broadspectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, apply it every couple of hours and wear a wide brim hat. They’re some tips she said she already follows.

Will she change any habits based on the screening today?

“For sure, I didn’t expect to see my whole face covered in the discoloration that they showed, the purple color. So seeing that is very eye-opening especially because I am always very conscious of my skin and burning and stuff like that,” said Flynn.

St. Peter’s University Hospital operates on the premise that while the sun is good for you, be careful. Too much of a good thing can damage your skin.

“Not in one day, not in two days but over the years you can accumulate a lot of damage on your skin from the sun,” said Marge Drozd, mobile health services director at St. Peter’s University Hospital.

“You see all the purple? That’s sun damage,” said Ryan.

That was not what visitor Millicent Waits of Guyana expected to hear.

You seem very surprised. “Yeah, of course,” she said.

Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer. In a 2016 study, The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found melanoma is more common among Caucasians but more deadly in people of color. More than any other group, African-Americans were likely to be diagnosed with melanoma in its later stages and have the worst survival rate. Why? Because of a major misconception. Bobby Stoev, emergency room chair at St. Peter’s, agrees.

“One theory is that people could think that because their skin is dark they don’t need to protect their skin. That is a misnomer for sure. You will still burn.

St. Peter’s insisted I get screened.

“Okay, so do you see how the purple light has lit up around your eyes? And on your nose and you have that hue? That’s sun damage,” Ryan told me. “It doesn’t mean it’s cancer. What you see in here is just an awareness for sun damage. Everybody should be seeing a dermatologist once a year.”

And regularly screening themselves for abnormal dark or discolored spots, says Drozd. She also says use two mirrors, or one mirror and a mobile phone, to look at your front and back.

“Part your hair and lift and look at your scalp, and actually ask your hairdresser or your barber to help you with this,” said Drozd.

Skin cancer is the number one cancer in America. St. Peter’s says it does sun damage screening to end its reign.