Citizen Article – Skin Cancer

After a long harsh central New York winter many of us are heading out into the bright sunshine in full force to either work on our gardens or groom the lawn. Perhaps a more leisurely activity is in order such as a softball game or 18 holes of ripping out hair over a little white ball or my favorite – tossing a line out after the ever elusive smallmouth bass. No matter what you do, the sun’s rays are beating down on us. So why is it that a dentist would care?

The thought came to mind as I was running through my oral cancer screening that I do on each and every patient at their recall visit. I start on the side of the neck and evaluate the skin for any lesions that may look suspicious check the skin up along the ear and behind the ear and along the hair line. Along the hair line is a common place for a Basal Cell Carcinoma. Not every patient gets evaluated by one of the fine dermatologists that we are blessed to have in this city so if I might be able to pick something up early and make an appropriate referral I may be able to help out that patient with a lot more than teeth.

What really hit home with me was when I was running through the skin check on a child. I had traditionally done the skin check on a child but never in a million years did I think I would find anything. Well lo and behold wasn’t there an article about a study that was done showing that the really bad skin cancer, Malignant Melanoma, has been found more and more in children. All of the sudden my skin exams on children have taken on a greater purpose since I doubt that Dr. Foresman and Dr. LaDuca don’t get to see many children for yearly exams. So now when you see your dentist looking closely at the skin of the neck and hairline of your child, there is a reason for that which is based in science. Also, when they are looking at the tongue closely – the side and the underside – once again, there is a specific thing that we are looking for.

I can’t stress enough the prevention aspect of malignant melanoma. That goes for any skin cancer for that matter. Skin cancers that are found in the mouth generally have a very poor survival rate. The other issue with oral cancer is that it is a very disfiguring cancer. Once it is detected by the dentist it usually has progressed to a point where radical surgery is needed. Malignant Melanoma has been found in the mouth. It is rare but it has been found. An ounce of prevention is well worth it and a pound of prevention is better. Sunblock on any exposed skin is a must. Be sure to protect the lips. Skin cancer can easily manifest on the lips as well. Summer is coming and the kids will be out of school. Please cover those kids appropriately so they don’t burn. If you see any suspicious spot on the skin of your child or grandchild, please be sure to have it checked by their doctor.

Dr. Michael Keating is in private practice in Auburn at the Health Central Building. He can be emailed at