You’ve heard the advice about wearing sunscreen over and over. But would it mean a little more coming from someone who’s survived skin cancer at least 75 times?
Dennis Hassel enrolled in the U.S. Navy when he was in his 20s. Between work and play, he spent about half of every day outside, often without a shirt and always without sunscreen.
Hassel, now 81, estimates he’s had basal cell carcinoma, a common form of skin cancer, 75 to 100 times. The cancerous growths appear on his face, side, neck, arms, back and chest and often look like small red spots that bleed and don’t heal.
Hassel has an appointment every three months with a dermatologist at the University of Virginia Health System, where any new spots are evaluated. Treatment usually requires cutting out the suspicious spot and sending it to a lab to ensure the doctor removed all the cancer. Sometimes his dermatologist freezes off the spot or gives him a cream to use.
Hassel thinks the x-ray acne treatments he used to get contributed to his recurring cancer, but, “it was mostly the sun,” he says. “I can’t say enough about getting the word out to people who think they’re immune to the sun. They’re not.”
Beyond just remembering to wear sunscreen (Hassel now wears 100 SPF), what can you do to avoid skin cancer? UVA dermatologist Mark Russell recommends you:
- Apply sunscreen 15-20 minutes before going outside.
- Reapply every 1-2 hours. Sunscreen can break down, wear off, wash off or sweat off.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays and make sure it hasn’t expired.
- Use about an ounce of sunscreen — the amount it takes to fill a shot glass — to cover your whole body.
- Stay in the shade when possible and avoid sun exposure during the hottest part of the day, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat — not a baseball cap — that protects your neck and ears.
The Skin Cancer Foundation has images and warning signs of each kind of skin cancer. If you find a suspicious spot, get it checked by a dermatologist immediately.
UVA dermatologists offer a free skin cancer screening every year. Currently, they’re also providing Coolibar hats to people who attend the screening and bring a less protective hat, like a baseball cap, to trade. Coolibar hats have the wide brims Dr. Russell recommends.
Photo: UVA Employee Kat modeling Coolibar hat used in hat swap program.