Victor Borges remembers going to the beach as a teenager and asking for the tanning oil, never the sunscreen. Wearing sun protection never crossed his mind, even though he had fair skin.
“I was terrible with sunscreen,” he said. “We would go to the beach and I have pictures where I was chocolate brown and my hair looked white.”
The now 44-year-old landscape manager would’ve never thought he would be diagnosed with skin cancer, until the day came in 2000 when his dermatologist found a small cancerous lesion near his nose, and it was removed.
Borges said since his dermatologist really didn’t make a big deal out of it, he didn’t think anything of it. “They told me to be careful and it was like whatever,” he said.
Then five years later, he began coughing up blood.
Borges was diagnosed with stage four melanoma — the most aggressive form of skin cancer. It spread to his right lung first, then his left lung and his spleen. He had surgery to remove his spleen, two thirds of his right lung and one third of his left lung.
He was referred to Dr. Lynn Feun, a professor of medicine in the department of hematology and oncology at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, who was overseeing a study program for IL-2, a medication that stimulates the immune system to fight cancer.
The medication caused Borges to experience fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, dehydration and an itchy body rash. “It is one of the nastiest medicines,” he said. “It really breaks down your body and breaks down your cells to the point that it eliminates everything that is bad in your body. It worked cause I am here.”
For the past seven years, Borges has been cancer free and is very cautious about the sun he gets. He wears 50 SPF sunscreen on his face, neck and hands every day, along with a big hat and a long sleeve UPS shirt. His co-workers call it “the cancer suit.”
Feun said melanoma is the ninth most common cancer in the United States. It has the ability to spread and develop in different organs, especially if not detected early.
There is a classic ABCD rule of skin changes that individuals can use to check their bodies for any unusual lesions. A stands for asymmetry, B stands for border, C stands for color and D for diameter. If the lesion is bigger than the head of a pencil eraser, it is considered more suspicious.
“These are just rough guidelines,” Feun said. “Any growth or any change of a spot on the skin should be investigated.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. There are more than 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer, and more than 76,000 cases of melanoma each year.
Basal cell and squamous cells are found at the base of the outer layer of the skin. According to the American Cancer Society, most basal and squamous cell cancers will develop on areas of the skin that are exposed to sunlight – the face, ears, neck, lips and the back of the hands.
Although these forms of cancer have the ability to spread to other parts of the body, it is rare. If found and treated early, basal and squamous cell carcinoma can be successfully removed and cured.
Melanoma is a progressive disease. The earliest stage, melanoma in situ, has a near 100 percent cure rate if detected. In this stage, the melanoma is found on the outer layer of the skin and has not invaded deeper layers. As melanoma begins to progress, it can become invasive and eventually metastasize. This can lead to major complications and death.