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How Skin Cancer Survivor Dayanara Torres Is Single-Handedly Driving Up Skin Cancer Screenings Among Latinos

Photo: Courtesy of Omar Cruz

Former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres has an important message for everyone, especially people of color who may think they’re not at risk: stay out of the sun and get screened for skin cancer.

“It doesn’t matter,” she says. “You have to wear sunscreen all the time.”

The Puerto Rican native and former Miss Puerto Rico doesn’t spend time in the sun because she always burns. But in February 2019, she was diagnosed with skin cancer. She suspects it was the result of sun exposure as a child.

For years, Torres had a large dark mole with an uneven surface on the back of her right knee. Then she saw it one day on set while she was judging on the TV show, “¡Mira Quién Baila!” and decided to get it checked out.

She went to her dermatologist, who did a biopsy and diagnosed Torres with stage three melanoma. Two weeks later, she had surgery to remove the mole and lymph nodes it touched, leaving 77 stitches on her leg from her calf to her knee, and a little bit of her thigh. But she was grateful the cancer hadn’t spread more, since once it reaches lymph nodes, it can spread to organs. 

First, Torres had radiation therapy. Then she had immunotherapy treatments every 21 days for a year, which she says made her tired and gave her back pain.

After Torres found out her skin cancer diagnosis, she decided to share her story. As Miss Universe 1993, she had a platform to share messages. Nowadays that platform is social media, where Torres has 1.5 million followers on Instagram and 797,000 on Facebook. She’s humbled to share her skin cancer journey and advocate for prevention and early detection, she explains.

“I know it was a sad moment or chapter in my life, but it gives me purpose,” she says.

Signs of melanoma

The actress, model, singer and dancer, wants people in the Latin community to realize that having darker skin doesn’t mean they’re not at risk for developing skin cancer.

They should regularly check their body for abnormalities and to see a doctor if they suspect any signs of skin cancer, such as asymmetrical mole shape, irregular borders, a mole that’s more than one color, and diameter that’s larger than the size of a pencil eraser, as well as any moles that change over time.

Every year, 7,000 Americans die of melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer. It’s the leading cause of cancer deaths in women ages 25 to 30, as well as the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women ages 30 to 35. Still, nine out of 10 melanoma cases are preventable.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the incidence of melanoma incidence among Hispanics has risen by 20 percent in the past 20 years. Even though fewer Hispanic people are diagnosed with melanoma compared to white people, they are statistically more likely to die from it.

“The Dayanara Effect”

Torres partnered with The Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) as a spokesperson and model for the award winning #GetNaked melanoma awareness campaign.  

The campaign encourages early detection through monthly self-skin checks and an annual full body exam by a board-certified dermatologist. As a result of the campaign, doctors reported a significant increase in Hispanic patients seeking a screening. It’s something dermatologists call, “the Dayanara Effect.”

“From the moment I started talking about it and posting about it and not stopping, people were making so many appointments,” she says. “The [doctors’] offices were getting packed, just because I spoke about it and people were paying attention to their own skin and seeing things and going to get checked.”

Torres, whose cancer is in remission, advises, “if you have a doubt, just go to the appointment. If there’s nothing, thank God, but if there’s something, you can catch it in time.”

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