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Doctor says skin cancer warnings are 50 years behind the times

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image Dr. Caruso examines Kathi Perrino using the special glasses that magnify each area of the skin. Penny Fletcher Photo

“We want to educate people and save lives.”

By PENNY FLETCHER

SUN CITY CENTER — People have been educated to take preventive measures concerning breast, prostate, lung, colon and other cancers but rarely do they have a complete annual exam of their skin.

“They know to get their mammograms, colonoscopies and other preventive tests,” said Dr. Michael Caruso, who has had a dermatology practice in Sun City Center for 30 years.

“But they’re still 50 years behind in the way they think about skin cancer,” Caruso said.

“That’s a shame too, because the risk factors are so much higher, especially here,” he continued.

The proximity to the Equator is a major factor, not just sun exposure, he explained. So the exposure factor in Florida is higher than that in the Northern states, even if you spend less time in the sun or if the temperature is hotter there. “Humidity has nothing to do with it either,” he said.

According to Caruso, skin cancer is responsible for 11,000 deaths a year in the U.S. alone, many of which could be avoided if early measures had been taken. An exam once a year is advised for everyone and because many can’t afford it, complete annual exams at Dr. Caruso’s are free.  

“We want to educate people and save lives,” he said. Now, he is giving a program he calls Skin Cancer University, beginning with a free buffet and talk Aug. 30 at 4 p.m. at his office, 4002 Sun City Center Blvd., Suite 102. (In the building on the corner of State Road 674 just west of South Bay Hospital.) Other talks will be scheduled after that through the fall and winter.

All races can get skin cancer, he said, although in 30 years of practice, he has only seen the diagnosis in four Blacks. Everyone, however, should be cautious and use lotion with UV protection; check their bodies, especially in places you wouldn’t expect to see damage because they aren’t exposed to sun, like between toes, under breasts and on the scalp.

People who have suffered severe sunburns in childhood — or even up to age 25 — also have a greater risk factor. So do people with a family history of the disease.

The biggest risk factor though, is age.  

“With the huge amount of people turning 65 now — the whole Baby Boomer thing — it’s an epidemic waiting to happen,” Caruso said.

Only 15 percent of the people he sees in his office are under 65, but the peak age for the most common type of skin cancer — a type of melanoma — is from 30 to 50.

Yet an analysis of the whole country shows that 50 percent of those who develop skin cancer in any form are over age 65. This risk is increased if any of the risk factors are there (like living in Florida because of its proximity to the equator). These percentages go up to 70 percent and higher.

“We’re about to see an explosion in the numbers as more people turn 65 and live longer lives,” he said. “I feel like the doctors 50 years ago who were trying to convince people they should have breast or prostate exams.”

Caruso, now 69, was born in New York City and studied at Harvard School of Medicine, where he practiced for eight years before moving to Florida.

He has four grown children, two living in Florida, and seven grandchildren. His daughter-in-law Anne works with him mostly trying to raise awareness.

To find out more about the upcoming event, or to schedule a free exam, call Anne at (813) 634-1455.

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