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Skin cancer screenings, awareness event planned by UPMC St. Margaret

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 7:21 p.m.

Dermatologist Laura Ferris would love for people to strip down to their birthday suits at least four times a year to give themselves a once-over.

“People should be looking at their own skin,” said Ferris, a UPMC St. Margaret physician and associate professor of dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh.

The practice is crucial for preventing skin cancer and in particular, melanoma, the most deadly form of the disease, she said.

With many people looking forward to sunshine this time of year, Ferris and other physicians are reminding the public that skin cancer is the most common of all cancers and affects one in every five people.

UPMC St. Margaret and the St. Margaret Foundation will host a free skin-cancer-awareness event from 6 to 7:30 p.m. today, Thursday, at the hospital's Neil Y. Van Horn Pavilion, 815 Freeport Road, near Aspinwall.

Free screenings will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. June 19 at the UPMC St. Margaret Dermatology office at 1 Alexander Center, 2585 Freeport Road, Harmarville.

“Summer is coming, and we want our neighbors in the community to have as much information as possible to identify, prevent and treat this common, yet curable, cancer,” said Mary Lee Gannon, foundation president.

Skin cancer affects about 2.2 million people each year, according to the American Cancer Society. Melanoma, while less common, is the most deadly form. It affects 76,000 people a year.

“The good news is that, unlike other cancers, patients can find it themselves early and in the most curable stage,” Ferris said.

She hopes to give participants the tools to perform thorough self-exams, a practice that's as easy as A-B-C-D-E, she said.

Ferris suggests that once every three months, people check themselves from head to toe, front and back. Look for moles that are Asymmetrical, with Borders that are irregular, that are a different Color than other moles, with a Diameter bigger than a pencil eraser or that are Evolving.

“Look for the ugly duckling, the one that doesn't look like the others,” she said. “A patient that is diligent can find a problem and seek attention early.”

Ferris reminded people to check areas that aren't necessarily exposed to sun, such as under the arms or in between the toes.

Speakers at the awareness event will discuss the most common types of skin cancer, prevention and treatment options. To lower skin cancer risks, the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta recommends wearing clothing that covers arms and legs, wearing wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and avoiding indoor tanning.

With melanoma numbers on the rise in recent years, Ferris said, she is encouraged by the sharper focus on health and wellness particularly among women younger than 40.

“It seems to be something that more people are paying attention to and that has a potential to save lives,” she said. “The most important thing is for patients to check their own skin.

“We are always preaching that because we know how effective it is.”

To reserve a spot for the event, call 412-784-4022. Parking is free.

To schedule an appointment for a free skin screening on June 19, call 412-784-5534, and leave a name and phone number for hospital staff to return the call.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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