Skin cancer diagnosis spurs congressman to advocate for more research, funding

September 1, 2012

Dermatology has a committed ambassador in Capitol Hill, but it's tragic as to why. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) and his youngest daughter, Briana, both have been diagnosed with skin cancer and are speaking out about it to encourage others to prevent and detect skin cancer early. The congressman has co-sponsored the Melanoma Research Act of 2012, which would provide funding for skin cancer research.

Key Points

Dermatology has a committed ambassador in Capitol Hill, but it's tragic as to why.

"We need a committed source of funding to allow the National Institutes of Health to adequately research this growing public health epidemic," he said in introducing the bill, noting that melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in the United States, with a diagnosis every eight minutes and a death every hour.

Video minute

A video in which Rep. Bilbray and Briana candidly speak about their cancers and their love of the outdoors and the sun is featured on the home page of the American Academy of Dermatology's website, http://www.aad.org/

"My whole life has been outdoors except for going off into politics. Being outside is absolutely essential to my state of mind," Rep. Bilbray said in the video.

"Growing up, we were always out in the sun," adds Briana, who is 25. "We used to sail, go out to Catalina Island. Every summer we would go out and swim while my dad surfed. Being tan was a big part of my life. Being in San Diego, it was the look. I wish I was more aware of the importance of wearing sunscreen."

That "look" has cost Briana, and her family, a great deal of pain and worry, and it has changed her life dramatically.

After she went to a dermatologist to have an "ugly" mole on her shin removed in the spring of 2011, the doctor told her, "This is pretty bad." A biopsy was performed, and she received the worst possible news. Her diagnosis: melanoma.

Since then, Briana has undergone several surgeries and four months of chemotherapy. She has relapsed twice, and she was forced to undergo radiation treatments this past April.

"They also told me that I might not be able to have kids, and that was hard to grasp," she said. "Until something's done and they find a treatment that can stop this disease, I am going to be going through this probably the rest of my life."