For three hours on a recent weekday, a steady stream of people made their way into a trio of small, curtained examination rooms set up at Bonsor Recreation Centre, at an event organized by the Canadian Dermatology Association.
By day's end, the volunteer dermatologists had completed voluntary skin cancer screenings on nearly 100 people - many of those participating left with instructions to see their family doctors right away or to keep a close eye on their skin in the coming years.
Of the 92 individuals screened by leading dermatologist Dr. Jason Rivers, Burnaby-based Dr. Michelle Withers and Vancouverbased Dr. Marcie Ulmer, seven were identified as having dysplastic nevus, more commonly known as an atypical mole - though usually harmless, atypical moles may be more likely to become melanomas down the road and should be evaluated on a regular basis.
Another 15 people were told they had markings known as actinic keratoses: lesions that can appear as red, rough, scaly spots and often show up on sunexposed areas of the body.
Actinic keratoses are not skin cancers, but have the potential to change into squamous cell skin cancers.
Finally, another seven people were identified as having suspected basal cell skin cancer.
According to Dr. Jason Rivers - one of Canada's leading dermatologists and a driving force in skin cancer prevention and awareness campaigns such as this one - that's about right on the average for previous screening events, where they'll typically see 20 to 30 per cent of people with some type of concern identified.
That doesn't necessarily reflect the average among the wider population, as the type of person who chooses to attend a screening may be someone who already has spotted something they're worried about or is older and more likely to have developed a skin cancer.
Either way, the priority focus isn't just about identifying possible issues with those who attend, but about educating the wider public generally.
"Skin cancer rates are still increasing, but we're seeing a tapering off of death rates in skin cancer (because of early detection)," he said.
Rivers notes that, with early detection, a majority of cancers can be successfully treated.
"In the early '50s, about 85 per cent of people who had melanoma died," he said. "Now, 90 per cent live - due to early detection."
One of those who benefited from early detection is Sarah Wildman, a melanoma survivor and mom of two, who attended the screening event to help with awareness.
Thanks to her skin tone and colouring, she'd been recommended to start seeing a dermatologist in her teens and continued having regular checkups through her 20s and 30s, which helped with quick detection.
She thinks that a combination of sun exposure as a child combined with the use of tanning beds in her university years led to her first round with cancer at 26. She had another two cancers about a year and a half ago, and is now - at the age of 39, cancer free. But she knows she'll be on watch for the rest of her life.
"My mom did the best she could with the sunscreen but I have the palest skin, red hair - and it was a different time then, we didn't really know," she says. "The next whammy would have been the tanning beds in university - I think about it now, so ridiculous. What a ridiculous thing to do."
In a way, Wildman says her bouts with skin cancer are a blessing: they have forced her to be incredibly aware of her skin and to watch for changes in a way that many people her age might not.
In fact, she was the one who first spotted the second round of cancer and knew immediately there was something wrong.
"My biggest advice is don't second guess yourself: if you have a question about something or just that intuition that something doesn't look right, see your doctor and get a referral," she said.
And, she says, educate your children about sun safety and cancer prevention.
That's a message that MLA Kathy Corrigan was echoing - her father passed away after a long battle with skin cancer.
"We really grew up in such a different time - I remember putting baby oil on and you'd get a burn and think it would be a good 'base' for a tan," said Corrigan. "Times have changed and I think people know more, but there's still room for that awareness, especially with young people. It's like smoking - now we know it's not good for you, but people still have that inclination toward getting that tan."
Corrigan, in part because of her father's experience, began seeing a dermatologist several years ago and has had a few moles removed as a preventative measure.
"If there is one thing we keep hearing, it's prevention - prevention and education," she said.
Visitors to the event, which was part of the national Sun Awareness Week, were able to take home a variety of fact sheets and pamphlets, including visual guides for the various kinds of skin cancers and pre-cancerous concerns, such as malignant melanomas, squamous cell skin cancer, basal cell cancers and more.
SPOTTING TROUBLE: A CLOSER LOOK AT SKIN CANCER DETECTION AND PREVENTION
When it comes to health issues, ignorance is not bliss. Skin cancers are some of the most curable cancers, when diagnosed and treated early. If found late, they can be impossible to stop and may ultimately be fatal.
Recently, a group of volunteer dermatologists spent some time giving free skin screenings at an event organized by the Canadian Dermatology Association. The purpose of the event is twofold: to provide screenings to those who attend but, more importantly, to spread education and awareness through the larger community. Reporter Christina Myers attended the recent screening day to learn more about skin cancers in Canada.
SPOTTING TROUBLE: A CLOSER LOOK
To learn more about skin cancer, cancer prevention and current cancer research, check out the following online resources:
- Canadian Dermatology Association, www. dermatalogy.ca
- Canadian Cancer Society, www.cancer.ca
- B.C. Cancer Agency, www. bccancer.bc.ca
- Tanning Is Out, www. facebook.com/TanningIsOut or www.cancergameplan.ca
- Health Canada, www.hcsc.gc.ca
- B.C. Ministry of Health, www.gov.bc.ca/health
- Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, www. partnershipagainstcancer.ca