By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Sarah Neumann is driven by her strong Midwestern values: family, religion and community; work hard and do it right.
With that, she’s celebrating a decade of success with her practice, Ahwatukee Skin & Laser. But during those 10 years, she has seen a sharp increase in skin cancer, which she finds daunting.
Neumann, an award-winning dermatology PA, wants to remind people to be get their skin checked during May for Melanoma Awareness Month.
“One in three Arizonans will be afflicted with skin cancer in their lifetime but routine cancer screenings plummeted during the pandemic. Please take the time to get that spot that’s been bothering you checked,” says Neumann, the founder of Ahwatukee Skin & Laser in Phoenix, and Sun City Dermatology in Sun City West.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, skin cancer is the most common cancer. Melanoma rates in the United States have been rising rapidly over the past 30 years, even doubling from 1982 to 2011.
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It develops in the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. Nearly 20 Americans die from melanoma daily. In 2021, it was estimated that 7,180 deaths were attributed to melanoma.
The precise cause of all melanomas isn’t clear, but exposure to UV radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps and beds in known to increase the risk of developing melanoma.
People of color need to especially vigilant, Neumann says. Most melanomas occur in people of color on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, under nails and in areas like the mouth and even the nasal passages.
Melanoma can also occur on the nails. While rare, subungual melanoma (melanoma of the nails) accounts for approximately 2% of all melanoma cases. It’s most diagnosed in the thumbs or the big toes and can appear as a brown or black streak under the nail and usually affects only one nail at a time.
One of the best-known defenses to preventing skin cancer is using sunscreen, but Neumann says the hard part is getting people to consistently use it.
“Recent studies show that 56% of individuals rarely use sunscreen, 35% never wear sunscreen and only 19% reported wearing sunscreen daily,” Neumann says.
“We need to get more people to take this seriously and protect their skin.”
In addition to getting annual skin cancer screenings, Neumann has other tips for Arizonans:
Be sun smart. Avoid the sun during the hottest times of the day (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Not sure if you should be outside? Follow the shadow rule: If your shadow is shorter than you, seek shade. Always generously lather up with a sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 and invest in sun protective clothing that has SPF built-in and wear hats and sunglasses to protect your head, hair, and eyes.
Be sunscreen savvy. In 2019, the FDA, revealed it was formally investigating the safety of chemicals used in sunscreens and their impact on breast milk, blood and endocrine activity. Check product packaging and always look for sunscreens containing titanium or zinc oxide as the active ingredient. Use a shot glass size of a minimum 30 SPF sunscreen for your fully body, and make sure to reapply frequently during the day if you are outdoors or in or near water.
Give yourself a check. Look for moles with changes in color, size, shape, and texture. Sometimes the most serious problem areas aren’t as obvious as dark moles. Be on the lookout for small patches that resemble scratches or flesh-colored or firm bumps. If you see something new that worries you, see a professional.
For those doing a self-check, Neumann says to follow the ABCDE’s. A-Asymmetry: If it looks different from one side to the other. B-Borders: Check to see if the borders are irregular, have projections or missing areas. C-Color: See if there is a variation in color, or if the mole is more than one color. D-Diameter: If the mole is bigger than the size of a pencil eraser, to get it evaluated immediately.
Get treated. See something out of the ordinary? Call and schedule an appointment immediately. Early cancer detection saves lives and skin care professionals can recommend the best preventive measures for your skin type.
Neumann also warns about use of tanning beds. “Having a glow may look great, but tanning beds radiate UVA rays, which can penetrate more deeply and damage collagen, the building block of our skin.
“I understand that the sun feels wonderful. Sunlight can help with stress, boost your mood, and getting as little as 5 to 15 minutes of sun each day on your arms, hands, or face two to three times a week is enough to increase vitamin D in your body. You just must realize that you can get too much of a good thing.”
Neumann founded Sun City Dermatology and Ahwatukee Skin & Laser in Phoenix. Both practices employ Mohs surgeons, who provide state-of-the-art care for skin cancer patients and a dermatologic surgeon to treat other types of cases.
Neumann has been voted “Best Of” in the categories of medical specialist, for physician assistant and for best skin care multiple years running in local polls.
“In Arizona we enjoy 300 days of sun each year, but everyone needs to be diligent about sun protection,” she adds.
One American dies every hour of malignant melanoma, but with early detection this condition is often treatable and curable.”
Sense of adventure
Neumann has long been passionate about skin.
“I got interested in dermatology, one, because I had very bad acne as a young adult and I had never heard about what a dermatologist was,” Neumann says.
“I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. I got to college, I met my first dermatologist, and it was life altering for me. I took myself from someone who wasn’t real comfortable looking in the mirror to skin that I was proud to show off. So that was my first experience with, hey, this dermatology thing is pretty cool.
“And then, second, I worked and was an exchange student in Belize in Central America in my undergraduate years. I saw a lot of infectious disease. I saw a lot of parasitic infections. And then my love for dermatology just exploded. I saw stingray bites. I saw cellulitis because of living conditions in developing countries. So, it was pretty clear at that point that the skin, hair and nails was where my passion lie, and that’s where I focused when I came back to the states. I went to PA school and decided that dermatology was for me.”
She founded two dermatology practices, one in Scottsdale that she eventually sold, and another in Sun City. She considers the latter an underserved market with an aging population with a high incidence in skin cancer. She’d come to Ahwatukee nearly 20 years ago, initially at a large-group practice.
“I wanted a more personalized approach to patient care,” she says.
“I wanted a higher quality standard. And quite frankly, I wanted to do it my way, which was heartfelt, relationship driven. I wanted to take care of people regardless of ability to pay. So, I made the leap of faith in 2010 and opened Ahwatukee Skin & Laser on my own.”
Ahwatukee Skin & Laser employs Mohs surgeons, who provide state-of-the-art care for skin-cancer patients.
“It was imperative for us to be a full-service cosmetic, medical and surgical dermatology practice because we create relationships with people,” she says.
“The last thing we would want to do is have to send them outside of our four walls to a team they’re not familiar with to get their skin cancer treated.”
Ahwatukee Skin & Laser
4425 E. Agave Road, Building 9, Suite 148, Phoenix
Sun City Dermatology
13843 W. Meeker Boulevard, Suite 101, Sun City West