On a sunny day in May, you might find Dr. Ida Orengo, chair of Baylor College of Medicine’s dermatology department, at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros.
Although the bright lights and diamond-shaped field beckon, Orengo, along with nurse Shambra Exum, a dermatology resident, and Scott Whipple, a physician’s assistant, are headed toward the stadium offices to conduct skin cancer screenings for the World Series-winning players and coaching staff.
Orengo is a seasoned veteran, having screened Astros players for skin cancer since the early 2000s. The screenings started as a sun-safety initiative between the American Academy of Dermatology and Major League Baseball called “Play Sun Smart.” Over the years, she has built a rapport with the team’s trainers and continues to conduct skin screenings yearly.
“We’re there while they’re getting ready for a game, so it’s exciting,” she said. “When watching them play, I remember the ones who told me stories just hours before, and it brings the game to life. It’s like watching a friend play – you have a special bond with them because you know them.”
At each screening, Orengo and the Baylor team take about 10 minutes to check for skin irregularities on players’ and coaches’ face and arms, and any concerning spots requested by the organization. Orengo’s team then fills out an AAD screening form by circling areas identified on the player’s body that need further review. If there are players with concerning spots, Orengo informs the team’s trainers which ones may need to follow up with their dermatologist for a comprehensive skin exam.
“They’re at a high risk because they are outside for a lot of their games and practices. Not all of the baseball parks have retractable roofs like ours. Educating them so they know what to look for and what they should and should not do while in the sun is important,” Orengo said. “For me, (the education aspect) is the best part of the experience.”
The 2023 baseball season kicked off in March, and Orengo is already looking forward to returning to the park to see the team. She typically conducts the screening once a year, either around melanoma and skin cancer awareness months, or right before the postseason playoffs.
“It’s very rewarding. Anytime we can spread the knowledge of preventing skin cancer and early detection is a plus,” she said. “Skin cancer screenings aren’t painful. It’s one of the easiest things you can do.”
By Taylor Barnes, communications associate in the Department of Otolaryngology