New Center for Skin Cancer and Melanoma Created at Wheeling Hospital

Wheeling Hospital has announced the creation of the new Center for Skin Cancer and Melanoma, headed by board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. E. Phillips Polack, who recently joined the hospital’s Physician Practice Division.

While the hospital always has treated skin issues, the new center provides a central location for the team of specialists to focus on the diagnosis and management of malignancies of the skin.

In addition to Polack, the team includes Dr. Rose Hardin, board-certified surgeon who has completed a highly specialized fellowship in melanoma and breast surgery at The Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. Other staff members are board certified dermatologist Dr. Alan Ruben; Angeline Robertson, certified nurse practitioner; Cheryl Boggs, RN, clinical studies coordinator; Jayme Nardo, RN, center coordinator; Raquel Morrell, certified surgical technologist; and Tammy Lucas, receptionist.

“We created the center because is it much more convenient for our patients to find melanoma and skin cancer care in one centralized location. At the center, patients are treated for a wide array of skin lesions, both benign and malignant, specializing in melanoma, basal/squamous cells and other cutaneous malignancies,” said Ron Violi, hospital chief executive officer.

Skin cancer is the most common of all human malignancies, accounting for nearly half of all cancers diagnosed in the world. In the U.S., more than 3.5 million basal and squamous cell carcinomas and over 77,000 melanomas occur each year. Melanoma is the most serious variety of skin cancer because it is consistently deadly if not detected and treated early in its course.

The danger of malignant melanoma is greatly increased in persons who have had a prior melanoma, since a high percentage of melanomas are “second melanomas.” This is closely followed by a family history of melanoma and an unusual type of moles known by their medical name, “dysplastic moles.” Other risk factors for melanoma are the following: redheads and blonds with very fair skin who tan poorly. especially if there is a history of blistering sunburns; all use of tanning beds; heavy sun exposure resulting from outdoor occupations, and certain types of pigmented birthmarks known as “congenital moles.” Surprisingly, even an unusually large number of otherwise benign moles may increase the risk for melanoma.

There has been a dramatic increase in malignant melanoma in the last half century, leading to a worldwide epidemic and the likelihood of nearly 1 in 50 people developing melanoma during their lifetime.

Basal and squamous cell carcinomas, while far more common, are usually not fatal. However, they may cause great suffering and deformity if neglected.

One of the diagnostic tools used at the Center for Skin Cancer and Melanoma is the FotoFinder. It is the most advanced technology for identification of malignant melanoma in its early and treatable stage. FotoFinder is particularly effective in monitoring people who, for a variety of reasons, may be at increased risk of skin cancer.

Wheeling Hospital is the only facility in the Wheeling-Steubenville-Pittsburgh area, and the entire State of West Virginia, to offer this advanced screening service. In about 10 minutes, FotoFinder initially creates a high-resolution photographic map of a person’s entire skin surface. When follow-up photos are taken, computer analysis precisely shows any newly developed growths, or growths that have enlarged or changed.

Another highly specialized technique used by FotoFinder is Digital Dermoscopy. High magnification photos are taken of individual skin lesions. These are first viewed directly by the provider to detect subtle features that may suggest malignancy. The images are then subjected to computer analysis, which assigns a malignancy probability to any particular lesion. The images also are stored in the computer for future side-by-side comparison to detect subtle changes in lesion size, shape or color that may indicate early onset of malignancy.

Polack said, “This new technology may allow us to detect malignant melanoma in its early and treatable stage. We can now monitor at-risk people with greater precision than ever before. For those susceptible to malignant melanoma, this may be life-saving.”

The Center for Skin Cancer and Melanoma at Wheeling Hospital is now located on the first floor of Tower 4, Suite 100. Call 304-243-5115 to schedule an appointment.