7960654670?profile=originalDr. John Strasswimmer is helping bring skin cancer screenings and treatments

to the local migrant community. Behind Dr. Strasswimmer at Caridad Center

are Dr. Sherry McQuown and Wilfido, a patient of Dr. Strasswimmer’s.

Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Lona O'Connor

    Between his private practice in Delray Beach and his volunteer work at Caridad Center in western Boynton Beach, dermatologist John Strasswimmer treats people of every way of life and every skin tone. What they often have in common is their lack of knowledge about melanomas, the skin cancer that is Strasswimmer’s specialty.
    Strasswimmer, a nationally recognized skin cancer expert and surgeon, is using a $68,000 grant from the American Academy of Dermatology, the Pfizer Foundation and the Palm Beach County Dermatology Society to build a skin cancer education program for Caridad’s clients.
    At the end of this year, Strasswimmer and his team are scheduled to produce a report detailing their results.
    “What’s really exciting is that this will be a platform to train community health educators, a way for them to get the knowledge they need to educate the public,” said Strasswimmer. 
    The study is the first of its kind for a low-income population in South Florida, who have not been involved in a melanoma study despite the fact that many of them work outdoors. 
    The largest free clinic in Florida, staffed by volunteer medical professionals, Caridad Center serves the working poor and recently uninsured clients. This summer Caridad is scheduled to open a melanoma center, including free screenings and treatment, just one part of the $5 million expansion of its facility from 7,500 to 15,000 square feet.
    Caridad CEO Laura Kallus has a long wish list of equipment to fill the expanded center, including items as basic as a standard operating table. The doctors have so far made do with a gurney they adapted for surgery, shared by several doctors.
    Educated at Tufts, Harvard and Yale, Strasswimmer served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and the staff at Massachusetts General Hospital before moving to Palm Beach 10 years ago with his wife, Karin, an economist. He’s been volunteering at Caridad since then.
    Strasswimmer is the medical director of the melanoma and cutaneous oncology program at the Lynn Cancer Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital. He also serves on the faculty at FAU Medical School in the surgery and biochemistry departments.
    The couple has gone on several medical missions to Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America.
    On a recent day at the clinic, he greeted staff and checked on patients, flowing easily from English to Spanish, which he learned in high school.
    “It’s a very satisfying way to remember why you became a doctor,” he said.
    
Skin cancer facts
    Whether sun exposure comes from work or play, snorkeling or landscaping, many South Floridians are at risk.
    Here are a few points Strasswimmer makes to dispel misconceptions he encounters:
    • Melanoma is the No. 1 cancer for people ages 25-29.
    Fair-skinned people are not the only ones vulnerable to skin cancers. Dark-skinned people who never get sunburns can have melanoma and other deadly skin cancers.
    • Among the results he is soon to publish is that 20 percent of people in minority communities think they can never get skin cancer.
    “My wife’s boss at MIT, an Armenian American professor, refused to wear a hat when he went fishing,” says Strasswimmer.
    • Sun exposure increases risk, but cancers can appear “anywhere you have skin, even areas not exposed to the sun,” Strasswimmer says.
    One of his patients at Caridad is a 30-year-old mother of three who had a skin cancer on her foot, which had to be amputated. Strasswimmer and his colleagues were able to provide her free treatment, including a prosthetic foot.
    “Expect the dermatologist to look for them in places you never thought anybody would look,” Strasswimmer says.
    • Not wearing sunblock in order to absorb Vitamin D?  “The level of Vitamin D that an internal medicine specialist would like us to have in our bodies is almost impossible to get by sun exposure,” he says.
    • In addition to skin cancer, long-term sun exposure can lead to pterygium, sometimes called “surfer’s eye,” a cancer that can cover the surface of the eye and cause blindness.
    •  Melanoma is not always a dark splotch on the skin. It could be pink, red or clear. And it does not have to be large to be deadly.

Send column ideas to Lona O’Connor at Lona13@bellsouth.net.

More information
    American Academy of Dermatology: www.aad.org
    Skin Cancer Foundation: www.skincancer.org.

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