Dr. Dennis M. Hughes: Fighting Skin Cancer in Children
Dr. Dennis M. Huges, M.D., Ph.D., received his M.D. and Ph.D. from Yale University and completed his residency in Pediatrics at the University of Vermont-Fletcher Allen. He currently does research in the Division of Pediatrics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Dr. Hughes has been recognized for his many achievements in medicine, including being named one of America’s Top Oncologist, America’s Top Pediatricians, and the Best Doctors in America. He has also won the Nollenburg Prize – Best Science Award and the Physicians Scientist Award.
Dr. Hughes’ commitment to curing cancer is deeply personal. As a child, he lost an aunt and a close cousin to cancer. At med school, a fellow student who had overcome bone cancer earlier in her life succumbed to a second bout of the deadly disease when it reappeared in her lungs. Soon after, a childhood friend of his died from the same disease. He still remembers his cousin looking at him in the hospital and saying, “Dennis, you’re smart. Why don’t you become a doctor and find a cure for my cancer?”
How to recognize skin cancer in children
Often has no pigment and looks like a wart
May also be pink or red on raised skin
Grows slowly over time
Larger than a pencil eraser
Itches, bleeds, or has an irregular surface
He finds that fighting childhood cancer has its own special awards. As he explains it, “I have the thrill of seeing a long-time survivor graduate from college, visiting with a parent who can’t say thank you enough, and sharing a discovering in the laboratory that was years in the making.”
One of his primary areas of interest is fighting skin cancer in children. It’s a common misinterpretation that skin cancer only develops in adults, but around 500 children a year are diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. By recognizing the signs and catching melanoma early, children have a much greater chance of survival.
Melanoma presents itself differently in children than adults. For most adults, skin cancer appears as a pink or red spot on raised skin, but in almost half of cases in children, the spot has no pigment and looks like a wart.
He’s often asked why he chose to work in a lab instead of in a clinic. Unlike doctors who work in a clinic and get appreciation as soon as their patients walk in the door, doctors who work in a laboratory don’t see rewards until years after they begin their work. He explains, however, that “in the clinic, you are only working with what you know now. It’s in the lab where you’ll find tomorrow’s cure.”