SVMC to hold skin cancer screenings

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BENNINGTON — As summer draws to a close, many Bennington residents may not realize the potential damage done to their skin due to sun exposure.

In many areas of the northeast, according to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center Dermatologist Lixia Ellis, many go through winter months without much sun exposure.

"When summer comes they're eager to get outside and enjoy the sunshine, but their skin is not used to it," said Ellis. "They are not in the habit of protecting themselves, and they get sunburns. Burns can lead to skin cancers."

Access to dermatological services is limited in the region, however, with a lack of practitioners and long wait times. To reach more members of the Bennington community, Ellis will offer free full-body skin checks at SVMC Dermatology from 8 a.m. to noon on Sept. 16.

"The benefit of holding a free screening is to remove the financial barriers for people who either lack insurance coverage or have high deductibles and allow them to receive this important exam," said Sandy Latif, director of operations for the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians. "Otherwise they may have skipped it due to the financial strain on their budget."

"While melanoma is one of the most serious forms of skin cancer, if detected and treated early the survival rate is 98 percent," said Ellis. "If it metastasizes, however, it gets into the lymph nodes and the odds of survival decline significantly."

According to the American Association of Dermatologists, approximately 3.5 million Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma this year. In the United States alone, one melanoma patient dies every hour.

"By signing up for the screening, people are able to receive the same exam that all patients receive in Dr. Ellis's office," said Latif. "It's an opportunity for the peace of mind that they are free from suspicious lesions or problem areas that may need to be treated."

The same screening last year diagnosed 10 skin cancers, according to Dr. Ellis' medical assistant Linda White, as well as 20 precancers. According to White, approximately 20 people were diagnosed with melanoma locally in the past year, with Ellis diagnosing between 25 and 30 new non-melanoma skin cancers each week on average.

"We do find multiple skin cancers, including melanomas, in each previous screening, making this service valuable to the community," said Ellis, who most commonly diagnoses basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas; both of which are often easily treated and cured.

Appointments are still open for the free screenings, supported by the SVMC Cancer Committee. While the service is open to everyone, those without insurance or with high deductibles are particularly encouraged to participate.

"This is the third year that SVMC Dermatology has offered the free screening," said Latif. "We recognize that there are still people in the community with no insurance or who have a high cost to receive care, and we are committed to helping patients receive screening for skin cancer."

Unfortunately, access to dermatological services can prove difficult even for those with insurance.

"The number of practicing dermatologists is not high, even if you include Massachusetts, Albany, and Saratoga," said Latif. "People are becoming more aware of the dangers of skin cancer and are seeking care, so this event is helpful for those seeking a screening."

"Triage is the key. We try to get patients in when they have urgent issues," said Ellis. "We're working diligently and closely with patients' primary care doctors, aiming to get patients in a very timely fashion if the primary care doctors are concerned about skin cancers or other urgent issues."

Though these screenings provide an important service according to Latif, prevention is key.

"Unfortunately many people do not seek care until they notice something unusual, but what is so very important is prevention," said Latif. "Applying sunscreen and wearing hats and other protective clothing, is the best prevention against skin cancer."

To make an screening appointment, call 802-440-4264.

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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