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Never Ignore Suspicious Skin Lesions PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr. David Lipschitz | Creative Syndicate   
Wednesday, 21 May 2014 20:06

My teenage years could not have been more idyllic. I spent summers lazing at the swimming pool or on the beach. In those days, sun tanning was routine, and sunblock was hardly ever used. I remember always being beet red from the sun. My nose was often so severely affected that bleeding was not unusual. This behavior, so common in those days, is leading to an explosive epidemic of skin cancers today.

At age 50, it happened to me. I noticed a little sore on my nose that bled and would not heal. After a few months, I went to see a dermatologist, who shaved it off and sent it away for analysis. Sure enough, it was a skin cancer.

The doctor felt it was so small that no more treatment was needed. All was well for about a year, but then a little white bump developed in the scar. I had a recurrent cancer. I needed a special kind of operation called Mohs surgery. An expert at managing skin cancer, my dermatologist excised the tumor and examined it under the microscope. The purpose was to make sure that the cancer was completely removed. He had to cut out tissue five more times to remove the entire tumor, which had spread deeply into the nose.

On the following day, I had reconstructive surgery. This was the bad part, as it took about three hours. The plastic surgeon worked wonders: You have to look really hard to see that I've had major nasal surgery.

I had a squamous cell cancer, a type that spreads more rapidly and is more likely to recur than the more common basal cell cancer.

In retrospect, the physician who initially treated me did not take the cancer seriously enough. More aggressive removal the first time would have prevented the recurrence.

Fortunately, it is now many years later, and I am almost certainly cured. I do see a specialist regularly and have had 10 more small cancers removed over the years.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in humans. Of these, the most frequent is basal cell cancer, which grows locally and is readily cured by surgery. Unfortunately, many individuals ignore lesions on their face and wait until the tumor is very large before seeking help. When this happens, they may need major surgery in which a large portion of the face, nose or ears has to be removed. Squamous cancers are less common but curable, provided treatment is appropriate. The more sun you are exposed to over time, the greater the risk of these types of cancer.

The most serious skin cancer is melanoma. This is related more to severe sunburns than to total sun exposure. Fortunately, my numerous burns have not led to melanoma. My sister and mother were not so lucky. Both were diagnosed with small tumors.

The incidence of melanoma is markedly increasing, and since this type of tumor has often spread widely by the time of diagnosis, it often leads to fatalities. Melanomas are treated by widely excising the tumor and, if possible, the lymph nodes that drain it. Often a skin graft is required.

It is important annual physical examinations include an evaluation of the skin to screen for cancer. Do not ignore a sore that does not heal or a mole that changes color, has developed recently, grows or bleeds. Moles are particularly serious on hands, feet and genitalia. However, melanoma can occur anywhere.

The most important fact about skin cancer is that it is definitely preventable. Sun exposure is bad for you and should be avoided. Ultraviolet light is the major cause of all skin cancers, including melanoma. Not only does sun exposure cause cancer, but it also contributes to wrinkles and to an array of skin blemishes that are often unsightly and occasionally premalignant.

So if you want to stay beautiful, avoid the sun, and wear a sun hat and long-sleeved shirts on very hot summer days, and, of course, use sunblock liberally. If possible, avoid sun tanning. Tanning beds may be just as dangerous.

Remember too that a great deal of ultraviolet-light exposure occurs on hot cloudy summer days. Most importantly, do not allow your children or grandchildren out of the house without a hat and a complete covering of sunblock.

Dr. David Lipschitz is the author of the book “Breaking the Rules of Aging.” To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz visit