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More than skin deep: From rashes to full blown cancer, MacDill's dermatology clinic staff cares and loves every minute

by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman
Thunderbolt editor
photos by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman

One of the cysts, caused by a clogged hair follicle, is about the size of a pearl. A local anesthetic was used.

photos by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman

Major Rasmussen removed the cysts in about five minutes.

The Air Force's current effort with Force Shaping is thinning overmanned fields but one career field in no danger is dermatology, with only 24 skin specialists in the Air Force. That makes MacDill lucky to count itself among the few bases in the world with someone trained to treat the organ most susceptible to cancer.

"I have the best job in the whole world," said Maj. Steven E. Rasmussen with a huge grin. "I love medicine so much I would do it for free."

t's a bold statement, but somehow genuinely believable when hearing Major Rasmussen, 6th Medical Operations Squadron dermatologist, explain how the Dermatology clinic has been able to help patients here deal with a variety of skin, hair or nail problems. He said in a typical day, the clinic will see patients all morning and have four surgeries scheduled in the afternoon. Issues can be as minor as an infected mosquito bite to more complicated matters like skin cancer. Major Rasmussen said the clinic is one of the busiest in the Air Force, seeing an average of more than 600 patients a month.

"Fifty percent of my time is spent treating patients with things growing on them like moles or warts," he said. "The other 50 percent is spent treating patients with things erupting on them, like acne or Psoriasis."

While Major Rasmussen has seen his fair share of stomach-turning cases, most of the patients never let their problem advance that far. He said one out of every 10 visits to a doctor is about issues with a skin problem.

According to the National Cancer Institute, about a million people in the United States learn they have Skin Cancer each year. Even from 92 million miles away, there are days the sun can shrivel plants, peel the paint from a car and even kill people from heat stroke.

Very simply, sunburn and ultra-violet light can damage your skin, and this damage can lead to skin cancer. There are other determining factors, including your heredity and the environment you live in. Both the total amount of sun received over the years, and overexposure resulting in sunburn can cause skin cancer.

The NCI said most people receive 80 percent of their lifetime exposure to the sun by 18 years of age. The level of ultra-violet light today is higher than it was 50 or 100 years ago. This is due to a reduction of ozone in the earth's atmosphere. Ozone serves as a filter to screen out and reduce the amount of UV light that we are exposed to. With less atmospheric ozone, a higher level of UV light reaches the earth's surface.

Healthy cells that make up the body's tissues grow, divide and replace themselves in an orderly way. This process keeps the body in good repair. Sometimes, however, normal cells lose their ability to limit and direct their growth. They divide too rapidly and grow without any order. Too much tissue is produced, and tumors begin to form.

Tumors are masses of excess tissue that result from abnormal cell division. They can be benign, which means they are not cancer, or malignant, which means they are. Benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body and are seldom a threat to life, said the NCI.

Often, benign tumors can be removed by surgery and will not return, said Major Rasmussen. On the other hand, malignant tumors can invade and destroy nearby healthy tissues and organs. Cancer cells also can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body and form new tumors. Treatments of these types of tumors include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and vaccine therapy. In order to avoid any of these medical procedures, Major Rasmussen has some simple advice.

"Be good to your skin. It's the only one you're ever going to get," he said, adding that sun exposure is the easiest risk factor to eliminate by wearing protective clothing and by using adequate amounts of sufficiently protective sunscreen.

So while the Florida sun isn't getting any cooler, at least MacDill has the resources to counter the effects of its damage.




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