a man talking with his doctor

A Talk With My Doc

Talking today with Robert J. Kaplan, MD, my dermatologist. Dr. Kaplan is in private practice in Memphis, Tennessee and currently treats me for a skin ailment (side effect) caused by my chemotherapy medicine. A 1973 graduate of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) College of Medicine, Dr. Kaplan holds multiple leadership positions at his alma mater. In 2013, UTHSC created the Kaplan-Amonette Department of Dermatology within its medical school.

Asking his thoughts

Dr. Kaplan is routinely named by local physicians as the doctor they would most turn to for dermatology care. I asked him about his dermatology practice and his thoughts regarding sun damage and skin cancer prevention.

1. What do you consider your areas of focus or expertise within dermatology?

No specific focus or specialty. We treat everything from eczema to psoriasis to acne to warts. Anything skin-wise. We’re a general medical dermatology practice.

2. What changes have you seen in the past 10 years regarding skin cancer diagnosis and sun safety awareness?

There’s much more awareness (about sun safety) than in the past. At the same time, we have an emphasis in our culture on looks – which can be a positive and a negative. Everyone knows they should protect their skin, but people – mostly young people – continue to use tanning beds. Remember when that actor – George Hamilton – used to be the example of a healthy look?

There’s a cumulative effect from sun exposure and damage. People are living longer and more people than ever enjoy being outdoors. That’s a healthy lifestyle. But the fairer your skin, the less sun exposure you can take.

3. Do you think your patients – today – are more knowledgeable about sun damage and skin cancer prevention?

Yes, people are more proactive about protecting their skin. Sunscreens and sunblocks have improved tremendously. Many of my patients make it a point to have me look at anything suspicious. Also, prevention is the key. You must protect yourself from the sun.

4. Have you significantly changed or modified your approach in dealing with diagnosing skin damage/cancer? If so, how?

I’m old school in a lot of ways. I believe patients with a history of melanoma or other skin cancers, or those people most at risk – fair skin, light-colored eyes, lots of moles – should have their skin checked every three to six months. Make certain you have a dermatologist look at anything suspicious. Don’t sit on it.

I’m also old-fashioned regarding sunscreens. I like physical blocks. Think zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and how they coat your skin. Blue Lizard, for example, is a zinc oxide sunscreen I would recommend.

5. What advice do you give your patients on how to prevent sun damage?

Stay out of the sun between 10 AM and 4 PM. If you have to be outside during those hours, use sunscreen of at least 30 SPF, wear a wide-brimmed hat, and clothing with built-in sun protection. Even if you’re water or snow skiing, you’ve got to protect your skin.

6. What advice or recommendations would you give the general population regarding skin cancer prevention?

I’ve seen it all. It’s common sense (protecting your skin) especially with the rise of melanoma cases. Again, your body – your skin – can’t take long, repeated exposure to the sun. Remember, your skin is your body’s largest organ. You’ve got to be protective of it.

Twenty years ago, we could give people a pass, but not now. Now, everyone knows (about the dangers to your skin from the sun). No excuses!

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