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Prevention key with skin cancer

Dr. Tibor Gyorfi, an Albany pathologist who specializes in skin, looks at tissue samples through a 
microscope at his office at Albany Pathology Associates. According to Gyorfi, skin cancer continues 
to still be a significant health concern.

Dr. Tibor Gyorfi, an Albany pathologist who specializes in skin, looks at tissue samples through a microscope at his office at Albany Pathology Associates. According to Gyorfi, skin cancer continues to still be a significant health concern.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Statistics from the Skin Cancer Foundation show that an estimated 44,250 new cases of invasive melanoma in men and 32,000 cases in women will be diagnosed in the United States this year.

It's a situation that might influence people to use sunscreen a little more often.

Dr. Tibor Gyorfi, of Albany Pathology Associates, specializes in skin. He is the one who is sent a tissue sample from an oncologist so that he can analyze it under a microscope to help determine the situation a patient is dealing with.

From this, he appears to have gotten a good idea as to how great of an issue skin cancer has become.

"I think it's a big problem," he said in a recent interview. "(In agricultural areas) there are farmers spending decades working outside. In another month, they are back in the doctor's office getting another lesion taken off.

"Last week, I had a sample come to me with two types of cancer."

Skin cancer, Gyorfi says, tends to invade, get into the dermis -- the layer of skin beneath the epidermis -- and get worse. Melanoma can kill.

In fact, according to information available from the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma accounts for more than 75 percent of skin cancer deaths -- even though it makes up less than 5 percent of skin cancer cases.

In terms of prevention, the American Melanoma Foundation says that dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater -- regardless of skin type -- all year long. It is also recommended to use a broad-spectrum product that protects against shortwave ultraviolet (UVB) and longwave ultraviolet (UVA) rays.

Gyorfi -- whose experience includes a stint at a dermatologist's office -- said he would also recommend that those shopping for cosmetics seek out products with protection, and that parents put a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or higher on infants.

"Even then, avoid excessive exposure to sunlight," he said.

The Albany pathologist, who is a father of three, said he has been known to apply a generous amount of sunscreen on his children before they go outside -- but he considers it better to be safe than sorry.

"I'm probably overdoing it, but I want them to stay healthy," he said.

The first sign that something is wrong might be a sudden or continuous change in the appearance of a mole. There will generally be something on the skin that appears asymmetrical, has irregular borders, an uneven color or is greater than six millimeters in diameter.

Other warning signs include the appearance of a new bump or nodule, redness or swelling beyond the mole, itching, bleeding, oozing or a scaly appearance, according to the American Melanoma Foundation.

Once something like this is detected on a person's skin, surgery is often required to remove it, although the specific treatment plan is dependent on the type of skin cancer it is and where it's located, Gyorfi said.

Aside from melanoma, there are at least two other types of skin cancer -- basal cell carcinoma, which is the most common form, and squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form, information the Skin Cancer Foundation indicates.

In the end, education is key to preventing the problem, experts say.

"Anytime you can prevent a disease, it is (more) cost-effective (in comparison to treatment)," Gyorfi said.

The risk of someone developing a certain type of skin cancer depends on the person's ethnicity. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common cancer in Caucasians, Latinos, Chinese, Japanese and other Asian populations. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer among African Americans and Asian Indians, information from the Skin Cancer Foundation shows.

Melanomas that appear on those with darker complexions most often present on non-exposed skin with less pigment. The overall melanoma survival rate for African Americans is 77 percent, compared to 91 percent for Caucasians, additional data from the foundation states.

While it might appear as though the incidence rate of skin cancer has increased, experts warn that such data can potentially be deceiving.

"When you Google skin cancer and melanoma, it looks like (incidence of the disease) has increased from the '50's and '60's -- but our ability to make a diagnosis has improved," Gyorfi said. "(It's hard to say for sure) if it is caught earlier or if there (actually) is an increase in incidence.

"My opinion is that nuclear testing (during the 1940s-60s) may have resulted in an increase in incidence in addition to background radiation."