TAMPA - The broad expanse of 63-year-old Richard Partyka's back is a rough neighborhood, covered with scar tissue from his many run-ins with with Dr. Christopher Nelson.
"These are where he had spots cut out. This was the melanoma," said Dr. Nelson, USF's director of dermatology research clinic, pointing out the healed incisions on Partyka's freckled skin.
Aside from logging hundreds of hours at the beach as a youth, Partyka was at risk for skin cancer for another reason. His mother died of metastatic, or spreading, melanoma.
"She had a mole in the back of her calf about the size of a fingernail. It began to bleed. Two and a half months later, she was gone at age 50," said Partyka.
Skin cancer research has found ways to slow the spread of highly malignant cancers like melanoma. But Dr. Nelson far prefers catching cancer early through regular exams. And while melanomas are rare, squamous cell and basal cell cancers are common and more closely correlated to how much time you've spent under the burning rays of the sun.
Doctors believe sun exposure accumulates in the body over a lifetime. That means sunburns you suffered when you were in high school increase your risk of skin cancer today.
One of the hurdles people of all ages need to overcome is modesty. One third of melanomas occur on non-sun exposed skin.
"So when you go in to get looked at, take off all your clothes. Don't be shy. We've seen it all" said Dr. Nelson.
Until further notice Richard Partyka will be in for an exam every three months.
Go to abcactionnews.com/skincancer to find out where you can get free skin cancer screenings.
We've also posted some very personal stories from our team about why this is so important.
And we're taking your questions about skin cancer to the experts on "Melanoma Monday." Representatives from Baycare, Moffitt, Florida Hospital Tampa and USF Health will be taking your calls and online questions. That's Monday May 6 on ABC Action News at noon.
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