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Friday, March 31, 2023

Study shows Florida has highest skin cancer diagnosis rates

Bailey Lawhon was 20 when he was diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma. Lawhon underwent six months of treatment and has been in remission for two years.

“Right away, we didn’t know what stage it was,” Lawhon said. “We just knew that it was cancer.”

According to a Blue Cross Blue Shield study from May 31, Florida has the highest number of skin cancer diagnoses in the country. The first day of summer is June 21, and students should check for potential skin cancer symptoms by getting full-body skin checkups.

Cecelia Luna, marketing and communications coordinator for the UF Student Health Care Center, said it is uncommon for students to ask for full-body skin checkups.

“If anything, we get students who come in and want us to look at a mole or a couple of moles …rather than having the full-body exam,” Luna said.

Several symptoms are easy to overlook, particularly for students who are not paying close attention to their skin, Luna said.

Lawhon, 22, said it is important to get yearly skin checkups.

“It takes a couple of hours out of your day, twice a year — even once a year — to get checked,” Lawhon said. “Melanoma spreads so fast.”

Lawhon was stationed in Bahrain serving in the U.S. Navy when he noticed a bump on his back.

“It looked like a wart on steroids,” Lawhon said.

A doctor in Bahrain examined and biopsied the bump. A month later, the doctor contacted him saying the bump was cancerous. Lawhon was sent back to the U.S. to have it removed.

When he went in for surgery, Lawhon’s doctor noticed swollen lymph nodes under his right armpit area. Three lymph nodes were removed and tested positive for cancer, Lawhon said.

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Lawhon rarely wore sunscreen growing up, despite spending most of his summers in the sun, and he said it was probably a huge factor in how he got skin cancer.

The SHCC encourages students to wear sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher during summer, Luna said.

Tara Andrisin, a physician assistant at Gainesville Dermatology & Skin Surgery, said theoretically, people can prevent skin cancer through sun protection.

Skin cancer often arises in moles that are on the body for a long time. She said a person might not notice a mole changing over time.

Andrisin, who has been in private practice for 12 years, has seen more young people coming in for routine skin checks at her clinic, she said.

“It’s very encouraging, especially because we do see that melanoma is on the rise in young people,” she said.

Follow Samantha Leon on Twitter @_samleon and contact her at

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