By Steve Blanchard - July 18, 2022
Roger Fortier knows firsthand why cancer screenings are so important. That’s why he never misses a Moffitt Cancer Center Mole Patrol® event in his neighborhood and plans to take part in this year’s free skin and head and neck screening at Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach on July 30.
“Moffitt has treated me so well and these screeners discovered carcinoma and melanoma on my back, level IV, before,” the Largo resident said. “I didn’t know I had anything on my back, so get checked out.”
Fortier was among more than 200 people who visited Moffitt experts at the pier in 2021. Like in previous years, experts from both Moffitt’s Cutaneous Oncology and its Head & Neck-Endocrine Oncology departments will be on hand again this year to screen everyone interested.
"Getting screened at the pier makes a lot of sense because many people are already in beachwear and our screeners can offer a thorough skin and head and neck exam."- Dr. Vernon Sondak, Cutaneous Oncology Program
“Our goal each year is to find areas of concern and get those issues evaluated as soon as possible,” said Dr. Vernon Sondak, chair of the Department of Cutaneous Oncology. “Getting screened at the pier makes a lot of sense because many people are already in beachwear and our screeners can offer a thorough skin and head and neck exam. Of course, if there is a need for screening an area in privacy, we can provide that as well.”
Head and neck cancer screenings are painless and quick, just like the skin cancer screenings. It takes just a couple of minutes for trained professionals to look into the mouth and throat and feel the neck. These screenings are also free and there is no appointment required.
“For head and neck screenings, we examine the mouth for lesions and ulcers and feel the sides of the face and the neck for any lumps,” said Dr. Caitlin McMullen, surgeon in the Department of Head & Neck – Endocrine Oncology.
Head and neck screeners can also look in the ears and nose for anything concerning. It’s a noninvasive process that can give attendees peace of mind or alert them to the need for a more thorough exam later.
Each year, more than 55,000 Americans are diagnosed with head, neck and oral cancers. The majority are caused by tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption or ultraviolet light exposure. And with the recent increase in oral cancer diagnoses related to human papillomavirus infections, early detection is more important than ever.
One in five Americans will develop some type of skin cancer. This year, doctors will diagnose nearly 5.5 million people with the disease, but early detection can save lives at any age.
Hearing the screeners have found concerning findings can be difficult, but it’s important to get checked nonetheless. Ashley Culbreth, a physician assistant in Moffitt’s Department of Cutaneous Oncology, was a screener at the 2021 event and recalled the first time she found a concerning skin lesion at an event years earlier.
“It was here at the pier and he had a pigmented lesion on his back that was very worrisome, and later diagnosed as a melanoma,” she said. “Screening at events like this is different than the work we do at Moffitt. In our clinic, patients already know they have cancer, and they know why they are there. In this environment people are asking for help and it’s easier to break the news of the findings to them because we can encourage them to get help in the early stages of their diagnosis.”
It’s a journey all too familiar to Fortier. He said he hopes that if anyone does have suspicious findings spotted at the event that they heed the advice of the experts and find follow-up care.
“Getting screened is important and seeking out that proper care can save your life,” he said. “I’m grateful for these screeners and Moffitt has treated me just great.”
The 2022 Mole Patrol at Pier 60 will provide free screenings from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. No appointment is necessary.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: 2022 Mole Patrol
WHEN: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. July 30
WHERE: Pier 60, Clearwater Beach
COST: Free; no appointment is necessary