Bench to deliver message of Play Sun Smart

Bench to deliver message of Play Sun Smart

Bench to deliver message of Play Sun Smart
Johnny Bench wore a trademark red catcher's mask for 1,742 games behind the plate as a familiar face of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine. It protected him well over a 17-year Major League career that ultimately led to his 1989 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

There was no mask for him to prevent skin cancer on that face, though.

Bench, 64, was recently diagnosed with and treated for basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, on both of his lower eyelids. With a unique procedure called Mohs surgery, he has had a full recovery and is now committed to raising skin cancer awareness.

On Thursday, the Reds legend was named the official 2012 spokesperson for the Play Sun Smart program, a joint effort by Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association and the American Academy of Dermatology.

"When Major League Baseball approached me about spreading the word about the Play Sun Smart program, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in a program that enlightens so many people about skin cancer issues and prevention," Bench said. "I recently learned the hard way from my own personal experience about the many ways you can prevent skin cancer, and I am eager to inform fans and players alike about how they can keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

"I thank Commissioner [Bud] Selig, the Players Association and the American Academy of Dermatology for this terrific joint program that educates and raises awareness about skin cancer issues."

Basal cell carcinoma is not considered life-threatening, but it can be significantly disfiguring if left untreated. Other types of skin cancer can be life-threatening.

The goal of the Play Sun Smart program is to raise awareness of skin cancer and offer prevention and detection tips to the baseball community. Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer. It has a 98-percent cure rate if detected early.

As part of his duties, Bench will make an appearance on Saturday at the MLB Fan Cave in New York with kids from Harlem RBI, a program of MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) initiative. Then he will cross the country to participate in a pregame ceremony before Sunday's Cubs-Giants game at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Players, coaches and staff from all 30 MLB clubs will serve as role models for their fans by participating in skin cancer screenings through the Play Sun Smart program and practicing sun-safe behaviors throughout this season. Since 1999, Academy dermatologists have conducted more than 29,000 skin cancer screenings through this program.

Just like players and club employees, fans are asked to practice safe sun behaviors and to locate a free skin cancer screening in their area by visiting SpotSkinCancer.org.

"The Academy wants all baseball fans to know that they can easily reduce their risk of skin cancer while continuing to cheer on their favorite team at the ballpark," said Dr. Thomas Rohrer, a board-certified dermatologist and chair of the Academy's sports committee. "There are three simple steps you can take: seek shade, cover up and wear sunscreen."

As in Bench's case, early detection of skin cancer is essential. Fans can spot skin cancer early by regularly looking over their entire bodies, including the back, scalp, soles, between the toes and on the palms. If there are any changes in the size, color, shape or texture of a mole, if a new mole develops or any other unusual changes in the skin occur, fans are encouraged to make an appointment to see their dermatologist immediately.

The American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 17,000 physicians worldwide, it is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin. You can follow the Academy on Facebook or follow @AADskin on Twitter.

The Play Sun Smart awareness program is one of several cancer-related initiatives supported by MLB. Others include Stand Up To Cancer, whose mission is to support groundbreaking scientific research aimed at getting new cancer treatments to patients quickly; the Mother's Day "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" initiative, which is a joint partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure; and the Prostate Cancer Foundation Home Run Challenge, which helps increase awareness of prostate cancer and raise money for the search for a cure as part of the MLB Father's Day celebration.

More information about sun safety and the Play Sun Smart program is available at MLBCommunity.org, and you also can follow @MLBCommunity on Twitter.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.