(BPT) – Johnny Bench earned nearly every conceivable Major League Baseball accolade and accomplishment during his 17-year career with the Cincinnati Reds. His natural talent paired with his dedication to practice and play for hours every day — often in the hot sun — is why many consider him to be the greatest catcher to ever play the game.
Long days outdoors may have contributed to his legendary baseball status, but they were also silently having harmful consequences on his health. Later, in his retirement, Bench would be diagnosed with skin cancer.
The greatest catcher in baseball history
As the leader of the “Big Red Machine” of the 1970s, Bench led Cincinnati to two World Series titles and four National League championships. On an individual level, he won two Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards, one World Series MVP award, Rookie of the Year honors and 10 Golden Gloves. In 1989, he was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Bench hit 389 home runs, but he was perhaps best known for his rocket arm and his endurance, catching 100 games or more for 13 consecutive seasons in the often-blazing sun, before ending his career at third base — a less physically grueling position.
Getting real about non-melanoma skin cancer
Eventually, Bench’s many years of prolonged sun exposure took a toll. In 2012, he was diagnosed with a non-melanoma skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma (BCC) — the most common type of skin cancer in the United States 1 — and again recently during a routine doctor visit. Of the roughly 2 million U.S. cases of BCC diagnosed each year, 95% are caught at an early stage2 and can be removed like Bench’s case, before becoming advanced. However, in rare cases, BCC can grow deep into surrounding tissue or spread to other organs or other parts of the body.1 While early-stage BCC may be cured by surgery or radiation, progression to advanced disease is often difficult to treat and associated with a relatively higher risk of returning and poorer outcomes. Treatment options for advanced BCC and CSCC are available and include surgery, radiation and systemic therapy. Patients should speak with their physician to find a treatment option that’s most appropriate for them.3 In retirement, Bench has become a vocal champion for efforts to get real about skin cancer and continues to be proactive about sun protection throughout the year — especially in the summertime.
Bench on how to “catch” skin cancer before it advances
Today, the Hall of Famer has been working with Regeneron since 2022 to share his experience with BCC, raise awareness of non-melanoma skin cancers and help people catch skin cancer before it advances so they can receive appropriate, effective treatment. Bench encourages everyone, especially outdoor enthusiasts, to conduct regular skin exams, including areas commonly exposed to the sun like the ears, face and hands.1 If a spot or mark is new, changing or unusual, he encourages people to see a dermatologist.4 Those who have previously been diagnosed with a non-melanoma skin cancer are at a higher risk of developing it again.1,4 A BCC or CSCC that keeps coming back could be a sign the cancer has advanced.5
Bench, now 74, continues to enjoy time outdoors but takes extra precautions to protect himself and encourages others to do the same. “Now I wear my sunglasses and my big hat every time I’m on the golf course or go out fishing,” he said.
1 American Cancer Society. What Are Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers? Accessed April 2023.
2 Data on File. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
3 NCCN Clinical Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines) Basal Cell Skin Cancer v1.2023
4 Cancer.net. Skin Cancer (Non-Melanoma). Accessed April 2023.
5 Migden, M. et al. Emerging trends in the treatment of advanced basal cell carcinoma. Cancer Treatment Reviews 2018 Mar; 64:1-10