Free skin-cancer screenings held last month at various senior-citizen centers throughout Utah confirmed that many people who have skin cancer are unaware of it until they are examined by a dermatologist.

During May, 291 Salt Lake residents underwent free skin-cancer examinations as part of the National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. Several doctors volunteered their time in support of the program, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, American Academy of Dermatology and the Intermountain Dermatologic Society.Of the 291 people examined, 110 incidences of pre-cancerous or suspicious lesions were discovered. Basal cell carcinoma (potentially fatal) accounted for 30 incidences; four cases of dysplastic nevi were documented (can be pre-malignant lesions) and one case of squamous cell carcinoma was diagnosed.

Society officials said that most importantly, doctors found three cases of malignant melanomas, the most serious form of skin cancer. It claimed 5,800 lives last year. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous carcinoma were less serious but more common and can cause serious damage and even disfigurement if left untreated.

"These discoveries indicate how beneficial the screenings are to the community," said Dr. Leonard J. Swinyer. "Skin cancer is an epidemic in our country today and our obsession with the bronzed look is taking its toll.

"More than 500,000 American get skin cancer each year," he continued. "However, if detected and treated early, skin cancer can be successfully cured. . . . For information on the prevention and early detection of skin cancer, contact the American Cancer Society at 322-0431.