With the recent announcement that Gov. Ron Desantis has signed into law a bill prohibiting Florida cities from banning certain types of sunscreen due to their connections with coral reef bleaching, we are reminded that there are still other risks to our health besides the coronavirus pandemic currently gripping the nation.
However, for Dr. Tim Ioannides, owner and primary physician at Treasure Coast Dermatology in Port St. Lucie, skin cancer has never left the forefront of his mind. As a Miami-native whose father founded the University of Miami’s Dermatopathology Laboratory, you could say it’s in his blood, and after a stint working in plastic surgery he founded his practice with the intent to provide medical dermatological services only. This idea proved successful in the county with the second highest skin cancer rate in the United States, and has expanded to five locations within the greater South Florida region. Having also recently worked on a successful study at the University of Miami treating a 97-year-old woman with multiple cancerous lesions using the HPV vaccine, Dr. Ioannides remains committed to ensuring the greater Florida area maintains awareness of the dangers of skin cancer.
As residents of The Sunshine State, being in the sun is second nature to us. Whether it’s a day lounging by the pool or beach, hitting the golf course, or fishing and other outdoor sports, the sun is a part of our daily life and unique culture — which is both a blessing and a curse. According to the American Cancer Society skin cancer accounts for more diagnoses in America than all other cancers combined, and one in five will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. Basal and squamous cell skin cancers affect more than 5 million Americans each year alone, and while they are rarely deadly, the same can’t be said for melanoma. Last year, about 8,000 Floridians were diagnosed with melanoma, and Florida has the second highest number of melanoma cases in the nation. While this can be attributed in part to our lifestyle, UV radiation is still the main cause of developing skin cancer, and the UV index is much higher here than in more northern states. With the increased risk that comes with living among the palm trees and oranges, constant dermatological supervision is needed to ensure we are employing proper preventative measures and catching any risks early.
Enter Dr. Tim Ioannides. Born and raised in Miami, both his parents instilled in him a strong ethos of helping others. His father, who came to the United States from Greece in 1957, was a renowned clinical professor in the pathology department at the University of Miami, and his mother was a technician at the university’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. Ioannides remembers his parents as always going the extra mile to help those around them, from their patients to even the plumber who came to fix a sewage problem in their home. After graduating from Coral Park Senior High, he followed in his parents’ footsteps and went on to attend the University of Miami for both his undergraduate and medical degree. In his second year of medical school, Ioannides proved his mettle once again when he witnessed a car careen off the edge of a cliff into the Biscayne Bay. Without a second thought, he dove off the Fifth Street bridge in South Beach and swam to rescue the elderly couple trapped inside. It was just in his nature to provide aid whenever possible.
After graduating from medical school, Ioannides briefly moved to Jacksonville for an internship with an internal medicine program run by the University of Florida. He returned to Miami for a dermatology residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital and joined a plastic surgery practice afterward. As his first full time job, Ioannides was thankful for the opportunity, and due to the exorbitant cost of cosmetic procedures at the time in tandem with the lack of a need to go through insurance companies he was making good money. However, he was deeply unhappy during his time at the practice, often feeling more like a salesman than a doctor, pushing people to pursue costly elective procedures like Botox, liposuction, and lasers.
Seeking a way in which he could use his education and training for good, Ioannides decided to open up his own practice, and after consideration selected Port St. Lucie due to its leisurely pace and proximity to Miami. At the time, people warned him there wasn’t a big market for cosmetics in St. Lucie County, and he told them in return that was entirely the point. He started Treasure Coast Dermatology with the intention of being an office focused exclusively on medical dermatology, with a specialization in skin cancer.
Over the past three decades, Treasure Coast Dermatology’s success has seen him able to expand to four additional locations in Stuart, Fort Pierce, Vero Beach, and Sebastian, all while still remaining the primary physician. He has chosen to not use so-called “physician extenders” such as nurse practitioners or physician’s assistants, preferring to meet and work with each patient personally. He has also shown his dedication to patient care through his decision to cease using electronic records at his practice after he noticed utilizing a computer screen during his appointments was hindering his ability to give complete focus to the patient. Under no circumstances will he or anybody at his practice accept gifts from drug representatives, including meals and parties.
In addition to running his practice, Ioannides has remained connected to the University of Miami School of Medicine, which was practically his home since childhood. He is a voluntary associate professor at the university where he assists in instruction on dermatologic and reconstructive surgery, and recently was a senior author on two papers in the Journal of American Medical Association of Dermatology, which earned one of the “Most Talked About” honors for 2018. In the study, Ioannides’ colleague Dr. Nichols was treating a 97-year-old woman who had multiple metastatic lesions on her right leg. The tumors were inoperable due to the quantity of them, and all previous therapies had failed. Although systemic chemotherapy was an option, the side effects would drastically reduce the quality of life for a woman of her age.
His colleague previously had success decreasing the number of new cancer growths in two of her patients after administering the HPV vaccine to them. Although FDA-approved for the prevention of cervical cancer, recent correlations have suggested that HPV infections may play a role in the development of skin cancer, and she initially treated her new patient the same way. There was a local inflammatory response in the majority of the tumors after the patient received the vaccine, and upon observing the results, Ioannides suggested she use the HPV vaccine “off-label” and inject the vaccine directly into the tumors themselves. The treatment was a success, and after a year every single tumor in the patient’s legs had disappeared. She has since gone on to celebrate her 100th birthday without developing any new tumors, and Dr. Ioannides was awarded a patent for the novel use of the vaccine.
Although Ioannides is happy with the success of the study and looks forward to the developments found by his colleague’s future clinical trials, his commitment to his practice as well as a work-life balance spending time with his wife, two children, and German Shepherds has seen him happily remain in Port St. Lucie. Even as COVID-19 continues to rip through the country and remains at the center of many health concerns, he remains committed to ensuring people don’t forget to be aware of the risk sun exposure poses, one patient at a time.
Originally published at https://patch.com on July 17, 2020.