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Justin Thomas Speaks Out About Dangers of Skin Cancer

Justin Thomas has a new cause. And it’s more personal that professional.

One of the bright young faces on the PGA TOUR, Thomas has a long list of accomplishments, highlighted by a 2016-17 season in which he won five times, including the PGA Championship, and claimed the FedExCup. He began the 2019-20 season by winning The CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES, his 11th TOUR victory.

Now, he is using that notoriety to help spread the word about sun safety and the dangers of skin cancer. This is where it gets personal.

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Last summer Thomas noticed a small mole on the back of his left calf. His dermatologist removed the mole and sent it to the lab. Thomas was told the mole was early stage melanoma, the least common but most aggressive and dangerous form of skin cancer. Surgery was required, and doctors went deep to make sure all the cancer was removed. The unexpected scare got his attention.

“I’m 26 years old,” Thomas said. “You wouldn’t think that someone my age, who wears sunscreen all the time, would have something like this happen to them. So, who else is out there that maybe hasn’t gotten checked in a while that should? This is kind of going to be a reminder to them to go do that.”

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Only three percent of skin cancers are melanomas, according to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. More common forms are basal cell, a slow-growing cancer that seldom spreads, and squamous cell, which is more likely to spread but much less common. One in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer before age 70, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Dr. Tom Hospel, medical director for the PGA TOUR, refers patients to an “A-B-C-D-E” model when discovering a mole.

  • Asymmetry – The two sides look different.
  • Border – The border is crooked, jagged or irregular.
  • Color – The mole is multi-colored.
  • Diameter – The width is more than 6 millimeters, the size of a pencil eraser.
  • Evolution – The mole has changed in size, shape or feeling.

“You have to be aware and you have to be smart,” Hospel said.

Sunscreen and lip balm have become staples for golfers. Protectant with a SPF 30 should be the minimum, Hospel said, applied liberally and repeatedly to exposed skin, particularly the face, neck, ears and back of the hands. Solid sunscreen sticks are an excellent option for re-application during a round of golf. “As a society, people are becoming more aware, but I think we’re all susceptible, a little more to skin cancer,” Hospel said. “You have to be aware and be smart.”

Be safe in the sun

The American Cancer Society not only has advice about UV protection, the Society also covers the A-Z of cancer—whether you want to learn about treatment options, get advice on coping with side effects, or have questions about health insurance. With regard to UV protection, the Society advises awareness that everyone’s skin and eyes can be affected by the sun and other forms of ultraviolet (UV) rays. People with light skin are much more likely to have their skin damaged by UV rays (and to get skin cancer), but darker-skinned people of any ethnicity, can also be affected.

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This article first appeared in the PGA TOUR December 2019-May 2020 issue, which can be read here.