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A Dermatologist’s Firsthand Experiences with Skin Cancer: Doctor Shares His Story

Associated Dermatologists’ Dr. Michael Dorman understands firsthand what it is like to experience skin cancer, and he has now made it his mission to educate others about the importance of protecting themselves while in the sun.

In a span of less than 10 years, Dr. Dorman was unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with skin cancer three times.

The first case was recognized when he was 45 years old. At that time, one of the physician assistants with Associated Dermatologists noticed a new black spot on his ear after he returned from a Caribbean trip. Upon biopsy, this demonstrated melanoma in-situ, the earliest form of malignant melanoma, which is by far the most serious form of skin cancer. The cancer was treated by excision, a procedure that essentially cuts out the cancer.

“I consider myself lucky because this was caught at a very early stage, and the future treatment is annual skin exams to ensure no additional lesions,” he said, adding that the earlier one diagnoses melanoma, the better the prognosis.

“As I tell my patients, there is nothing unique about the skin on my right ear that developed this melanoma. The same sun hit most of my body. Therefore, new lesions can develop wherever the sun exposure or burns occur.”

Dr. Dorman said that once patients have a history of skin cancer, they are generally advised to have a skin cancer screening every six months for the first five years, at the discretion of their doctors. Afterward, exams may be reduced to once a year.

No one understands the importance of these follow-up exams more than Dr. Dorman, who was examined by one of his colleagues every six months after his first cancer was removed.

Approximately four years after removal of the first cancer, he developed a basal cell carcinoma on his chest, which also was treated by excision.

Once patients get one non-melanoma sun-related skin cancer, there’s a good chance they will develop another in a short period of time, and that’s what occurred in Dr. Dorman’s case. A few years later, he developed a basal cell carcinoma on his back, which has been removed as well.

His experiences have only made him more passionate about educating patients and the general public about skin cancer, especially the relationship between sun exposure and skin cancer.

Most cancer experts agree that sun exposure early in life can lead to skin cancer later in life. Researchers know that cumulative sun exposure is the most direct correlation to skin cancer, but those who study this are also aware that one blistering burn as a child puts you at greater risk later, Dr. Dorman said.

He said he can recall having blistering sunburns as a child on vacations to the Caribbean and Florida, which put him at a higher risk for all of these skin cancers.

“I am certainly much more conscious of the sun now than ever before,” he said.

In fact, he is known to always wear a wide-brimmed hat while spending time outdoors. He says he is compulsive with his application of sunblock and wears sun-protective clothing as often as he can.

“I have a pool and built a cabana so there could be shade,” he said, adding that he has more umbrellas than lounge chairs around the deck.

The best skin cancer protection is sun protection at an early age, Dr. Dorman said. If you have significant sun exposure as a child, you could hypothetically stay indoors for the rest of your life and still develop skin cancer. Additionally, when you go back in the sun, you trigger and stimulate those potentials for cancer.

Dr. Dorman and Associated Dermatologists aim to teach parents, children, and those who work with children about the importance of applying sunblock. The sunblock should offer both UVA and UVB protection and be at least SPF 30.

“Most people don’t apply sunscreen as much or as often as they should,” he said. “Reapplication is important. What you put on first thing in the morning will not protect you all day.”

Dr. Dorman advises using “twice as much, twice as often.”

“If you are using it and still getting color, you are either not using it properly or you need a higher SPF,” he said.

Considering that one sunburn in childhood can lead to skin cancer later in life, Dr. Dorman is confident that increasing awareness about protecting the young while they’re in the sun will translate to less skin cancer in the future.

“As I tell my patients, skin cells are like an elephant. They have memory cells that last your whole life,” he said.