Free skin cancer screenings are being conducted by appointment only Thursday afternoon at the Scott County Health Center in Sikeston. Another skin cancer screening is scheduled for June 1 at the Center, and appointments are being made for both sessions.
"Early detection is the key," said Brenda Freed, public education officer for Scott County Health Center.
Cancer of the skin is the most common of all cancers.
Melanoma -- the rarest but most dangerous form of skin cancer -- accounts for about 4 percent of skin cancer cases, and it causes most skin cancer deaths, according to American Cancer Society. The number of new cases of melanoma in the United States is on the rise. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2006 there will be 62,190 new cases of melanoma in this country, and about 7,910 people will die of this disease.
When diagnosed early, melanoma can be cured.
Therefore, it's important for people to recognize any changes in their skin, and report them to their doctors.
Dr. Cully Bryant, who examines patients for Scott County's skin cancer screenings, recommended anyone who has a family history of skin cancer, has a job that requires them to be outdoors for lengthy periods, tans or has new or changing spots on the skin make an appointment to have their skin screened.
Once someone shows up for their appointment, Bryant said he will question them about any concerns they may have.
"And then I try to determine whether the concern is valid," Bryant said.
Bryant will get a general history of health/family history and brief exam of sun exposed areas and/or lesions on the skin although unexposed skin, such as finger nails and the space in between toes, can also contain cancerous spots.
Ethnicity also comes into play. According to the American Cancer Society, the risk of melanoma is about 10 times higher for whites than African Americans because of the protective effect of skin pigment. Whites with fair skin that freckles or burns easily are at especially high risk.
People with excessive exposure to light from tanning lamps, booths or sunlight are at greater risk of skin cancer as well as those who've had severe, blistering sunburns particularly in his or her childhood or teen years.
People who have the highest risk of melanoma have many moles, irregular moles or large moles. Those with blood relatives who have had melanoma or who have previously had melanoma themselves are also at a high risk.
"Then I look at their skin," Bryant said, adding the extent of the exam is based on the patient's comfort level.
Freed pointed out the examinations at the health center are only screenings. "If the doctor is suspicious or something is questionable, then he will refer them to a physician," Freed said.
Those who attend the screenings are primarily the elderly, Bryant said.
"There's almost no young people (who attend), and it's disappointing because many of them are tanning and doing the inappropriate things that put them at a higher risk for sun cancer," Bryant said.
This is the third year Scott County is offering the screenings provided through a Southeast Missouri Cancer Coalition grant. Health centers in Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Stoddard, Butler and Dunklin counties are also conducting screenings.
But for the first time, the health department will track its referrals to have a better idea of the number of skin cancer cases.
"So if we have 15 people screened and five referred, then we will pick up the five referred and follow them to find out if they're malignant," Freed said. Brochures containing information about skin cancer from the American Cancer Society will also be available, Freed said.
"The detection of skin cancer is critical in the early stages and that's what these screenings are for," Freed said.
To make an appointment for Thursday or June 1, contact the Scott County Health Center at (573) 471-4044.