UAL screening hundreds for skin cancer/melanoma

Nationwide program provided by AAD

By the end of this year, hundreds of United Airlines (UAL) employees will have been screened for skin cancer and melanoma as part of a nationwide program sponsored by the Schaumburg, IL-based American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). The first program, held at UAL’s Chicago headquarters and at its hub at O’Hare International Airport on May 6 as part of the AAD’s Melanoma Monday, saw over 150 employees participate.

"We chose skin cancer/melanoma because it is the most common kind of cancer in the United States. To our knowledge, new cases and deaths have risen significantly. We view melanoma/skin cancer as a significant health concern for our employees and the public," notes Star Ebbole, a manager at UAL’s medical department. "We are grateful to the American Academy of Dermatology for partnering with us to create employee and public awareness as well as to promote safe sun practices and early detection."

This is only the beginning of UAL’s participation, according to Fred F. Castrow II, MD, president of the AAD. "We will also perform screenings at their San Francisco, Denver, and Washington, DC, hubs," he notes.

"We did not make any goals in number of employees that we would hope to have screened," adds Ebbole. "We are trying to screen as many employees as possible. Our intention is to create awareness of how serious a health threat skin cancer is, promote safe sun practices, early detection, and possibly save lives."

This pairing was a natural, notes Castrow, and not just because AAD and UAL are corporate neighbors. "Studies show that pilots have a higher incidence of skin cancer than the average population," he observes.

During the screenings, volunteer dermatologists, including Castrow himself, looked at all sun exposures for suspicious lesions. "We were looking for melanomas in particular," he notes, reciting the A (asymmetry), B (border — irregular, leaking, or notching), C (irregular color), and D (diameter — usually smaller than a pencil eraser) that are looked for during the examination.

Ebbole is very pleased with the results. "We feel the program went extremely well," she says. "The employee response was overwhelmingly positive." She says that 159 United Airlines employees were screened in Chicago on Melanoma Monday. "We had approximately 63 employees waitlisted as well, and we were able to screen a good number of them."

Incidence increasing

Besides the basic health reasons for skin cancer screenings, Castrow notes the AAD is seeking to stem the tide of an alarming trend. Despite all of the recent publicity about the dangers of sun exposure, melanoma and skin cancer are increasing. "We don’t know why they’re increasing," he concedes. "Part of it could be due to more frequent early detection, but there are likely multiple factors involved. People have more free time, more money, and more time to spend on the beaches. But if we test early we can cure many of them."

One of AAD’s major targets has been high-profile industries where sun exposure is greater than average. This provides the combined benefit of screening workers who need it and raising awareness. "The most high-profile industry we’ve done so far is major-league baseball," says Castrow.

Each year a team is designated as the Highlighted team. Last year, it happened to be the Arizona Diamondbacks, who ended up being world champions. "This really has helped increase awareness," Castrow notes. "We screened players, staff and family of all the major league teams, but we run public service announcements (PSA’s) on the highlighted teams." The theme of the announcements is "Play Smart in the Sun."

AAD also sponsors a similar program with soccer, which was rolled out in the last few weeks. In addition, they held an awareness day in early May on Capitol Hill, which featured Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as a speaker.

More than 2,000 volunteers

There are over 2,000 AAD member dermatologists who volunteer their services at screenings across the country, says Castrow. "That’s a big number," he concedes, "But it’s an important public service and one of the core programs of the academy. We really do need to focus on this and make the public aware of the damage of the sun."

The challenge was made clear by a recent AAD telephone survey in which more than 90% of the respondents said they felt being in the sun was unhealthy, but more than 80% said they felt they looked better after being in the sun. That’s what makes facilities such as tanning salons so dangerous, says Castrow. "They are the present-day cigarette-smoking hazard," he declares.

While the advertising focus has been on high-profile industries (for obvious reasons), Castrow says any company can participate in Melanoma Monday and other screening programs. "They just have to call the academy and let us set up some screenings for them," he says. "Also, every year the host cities in large metropolitan areas are published in the local newspapers." You can also call the Atlanta-based American Cancer Society, which is partnering with AAD on Melanoma Monday.

The AAD has other skin care-awareness initiatives — educational pieces and publications. You can check with AAD staff or visit the AAD web site (

United Airlines has already taken advantage of some of these additional opportunities. "Along with our free skin screenings that were held on Melanoma Monday, one of the volunteer dermatologists held a discussion for our employees to provide education regarding skin cancer," says Ebbole. "We also provided pamphlets to employees as provided by the AAD, and encouraged them to visit the AAD’s web site to locate free screenings that are available within their areas. We have more than 80,000 employees and we intend to inform them regarding same via our company paper. We would be very much interested in partnering with AAD on a yearly basis to make these screenings an annual event."

Castrow is determined to continue the screening programs because he knows they’re performing a valuable service. "I personally found one young lady [at the UAL screening] who had four potential basal cell carcinomas," he says, "So we’re doing some good."

[For more information on AAD programs and availability, contact: Karen Klickmann. Telephone: (847) 240-1735.]