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The mole removed from Doug DuVall's chest last summer may end up saving thousands of Howard County students and educators from skin cancer.

The Wilde Lake High School teacher and football coach credits the early detection of that mole with saving his life.

Now, he wants to give something back, and the first step begins tonight when DuVall joins the Howard County Skin Cancer Prevention Project in trying to raise awareness of the dangers of the sun among the Howard schools' coaches, physical education teachers, nurses and health assistants.

"Coaches are outside every day with our kids, and we never think about protection from the sun," said DuVall, 48. "That needs to change. We need to encourage our kids to use sunscreen, and we need to do it ourselves."

The program puts the Howard schools at the forefront of national efforts to protect children from the hazards of the sun, according to national skin cancer and dermatology groups.

The Skin Cancer Prevention Project began last summer as a partnership between Howard County General Hospital and the Columbia Association to promote skin cancer awareness at Columbia's 23 swimming pools by posting information on bulletin boards, educating lifeguards and handing out bags of hats and sunscreen.

This summer, the project will expand to all of the county's pools.

In the meantime, the hospital's partnership with the county schools formally begins at 6 o'clock tonight with a presentation to Howard educators at the Spear Center in Town Center.

"The sunburn that kids get today is the skin cancer they'll get tomorrow," said Dr. Harry Oken, chairman of the hospital's department of medicine and director of the skin cancer project. "We need to decrease their exposure to the sun and raise awareness."

As many as 1 million Americans will develop some form of skin cancer this year, with as many as 40,000 developing melanoma -- the most aggressive form of skin cancer, said Dr. Paul Rusonis, an Ellicott City dermatologist working with Oken on the project.

About 7,300 people nationwide will die from melanoma, and recent research suggests that one in 84 Americans will develop it during their lifetime. The risk of developing melanoma has risen rapidly in the past 65 years, and it is now the fifth most common form of cancer.

'Really disturbing'

"What's really disturbing is that so much of it is preventable if people were more aware of the sun and used some common-sense protection," said Cindi Miller, director of the hospital's community health education department and a member of the project.

The expansion of the project to the Howard schools came about in part because Oken was the doctor who discovered DuVall's mole.

It was DuVall's first checkup in at least a decade, and "the doctors tell me that if the mole had been discovered just a year later, it would have been too late," DuVall said. A 5-inch scar is a permanent reminder of last summer's surgery to remove the melanoma.

DuVall and Oken realized that Howard's coaches and and students are outside on practice fields for hours each day but rarely use sunscreen.

A recent study found that only 9 percent of teen-agers reported always using sunscreen -- and a third never had used sunscreen -- even though 81 percent said they spend most weekends in the sun, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation in New York. Most people receive 80 percent of their lifetime's exposure to the sun by age 20.

In response to the statistics, the partnership will ask Howard educators to be role models for students by using sunscreen and hats and being checked by their doctors for what are unscientifically known as "funny-looking moles," Oken said.

The project also will encourage coaches, nurses and health assistants to start getting their students to bring in permission slips allowing them to put on sunscreen, Miller said. She suggested that such slips could be sent home with packets that parents must sign giving their children permission to play sports.

"The younger students are going out on field trips and being exposed to the sun, but parents frequently don't think about putting sunscreen on their kids before sending them to school," Rusonis said, noting that students also receive a lot of sun during recess, physical education classes and field days. "We need to make a uniform policy and permission slip so that nurses and others can put sunscreen on kids who are getting too much sun."

First partnership

The partnership between the hospital and Howard schools is believed to one of the first such skin cancer prevention efforts in the country.

Last fall, the American Academy of Dermatology formed the National Coalition for Sun Safety with several other groups to promote awareness of the sun. They are planning ways to disseminate information to schools.

Dr. Rex Amonette, president of the academy, said he is aware of smaller programs working with individual teams, but he had not heard of anything similar to what is happening in Howard.

"It sounds like what is going on there is what we're hoping to do eventually, too -- teach awareness to youngsters and their caregivers," said Amonette, a Memphis, Tenn., dermatologist who is co-chairman of the national coalition. "They seem to be ahead of the pack, doing exactly what needs to happen across the country."

Pub Date: 4/23/97

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