Michigan Angler and Physician Stresses Skin Protection

On the calm waters of Pike Lake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Dr. Lance M. Owens recollects his first big catch. At just five years old, Owens didn’t intend to reel in a record-breaking fish. He simply cast his red and white striped Dardevle lure and waited.

“I grew up fishing and spent summers in the northern U.P.,” Owens recalled. “When I’m up there, I feel a closeness with nature and I love encounters with wildlife.”

Owens remembers the bend in his rod, fighting with the flailing fish, and when he finally hauled it in, a 36-inch pike was on the end of his line. He instantly became the youngest person to catch a fish that large in Luce County.

Owens, now a primary care physician with Metro Health – University of Michigan Health, in Wyoming, continues to fish and is completing a Wilderness Medicine fellowship. He’s focusing on the 10 essentials of wilderness safety, and wants to highlight one essential in particular.

Dr. Lance M. Owens

“When you’re outdoors, especially on the water, having a compass, first aid supplies, and a personal flotation device is extremely important, but equally important is sun protection,” he explained. “My first method is to cover up. I like the long-sleeve, loose shirts with SPF built into them.”

Owens also uses neck protection, sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

“You exercise to protect your heart, avoid smoking to protect your lungs and attend yearly physicals to stay healthy overall. So why would you ignore the largest organ of your body – your skin?” he challenged.

Ultraviolet (UV) exposure from weekends spent floating amidst the waves, without adequate protection, can trigger cancerous skin lesions. According to the American Cancer Society, more skin cancers are diagnosed in the U.S. each year than all other cancers combined.

Dr. Larry McCahill

Dr. Larry McCahill, a surgical oncologist with Metro Health – University of Michigan Health and director of the hospital’s Skin Cancer Center, says there are several types of skin cancer but the most deadly is melanoma. “Only about 10% of skin cancers in the U.S. are melanoma,” McCahill explained. “However, melanoma is the cause of approximately 90% of skin cancer deaths.”

Additionally, sun exposure on the water is more dangerous than on land. Sunlight reflects off the surface of the water, and anglers often have more severe cases of skin cancer. “I see sailors, anglers and former members of the Navy who have spent years on the water and now have numerous skin cancers,” McCahill cautioned.

Both Owens and McCahill agree the benefits of spending time outdoors doing something you love cannot be overstated. Part of their role as physicians is to educate patients about risks, and guide them toward prevention. If anglers are concerned about a sunburn or unusual changes to their skin, they should visit a primary care physician first.

“I strongly encourage people to spend time outdoors whenever they can,” Owens said. “It’s all about awareness of potential dangers, and protection. I go the extra mile with skin protection so I’m not sorry down the road.”