On HealthWise, we have said many times that all it takes is a bad burn at the beach or the pool to develop, years later, into a skin cancer. It can also be a childhood full of fishing and camping trips that lay the foundation for skin cancer, at least that may be where it started for John Robison. Luckily, for him, he found it early and lucky for us, he is sharing his story.
John noticed a little spot on his face a couple of months ago and once it got a plastic look or glassy look, he thought it might be something more than a pimple. That is when he decided to check it out and he invited Karin McCay along. His concern, of course, is skin cancer.
We are not talking about the ugly moles that grow out of control. Instead, there are more than a million people diagnosed with another kind of skin cancer every year, mostly from repeated sun exposure to the face, the ears, neck, lips, and the back of the hands. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common of all skin cancers. It can be a pearly bump like John's, it can be an open sore, a reddish patch, a growth with an elevated border, or a scar like area. The good news is this kind of skin cancer rarely spreads. The bad news is that they eat into the skin and create big holes. Sometimes, if allowed, they can even eat into the bone.
In John's case, dermatologist Dr. Lynne Wurts did a biopsy on that bump. First, though, she treated another suspicious spot on John's cheek. It turned out that what he thought was an itchy rash by his ear is another problem called actinic keratoses, or AK, which describes a pre-cancer- typically a dry, scaly patch that may be rough, textured, or slightly elevated. At any rate, it needed to be removed before it grew into cancer. In a matter of seconds, Dr. Wurts froze the pre-cancers with liquid nitrogen.
The biopsy was next and it did not take very long. A shot of lidocaine numbed the area much like at the dentist's office. Then, a tiny shaving from the top of the bump is sent to a lab to determine how aggressive this cancer is. The tissue is cut into sections then frozen for a few minutes and stained so that what goes under the microscope is like a map that only a pathologist can read.
With all of the cancer spots that they found, it took two more tries for Dr. Wurts to remove enough of the surrounding area to be sure that all the basal cell cancers were gone. This story could be a lot worse like so many other cases, if that little bump had gotten a lot bigger.
Now, instead of being on TV, John is watching it at home for a couple of days... but only because he doesn't want to wear a giant band-aid while he does the forecast.
The bottom line is to check your skin regularly for any changes and if you notice something that looks different show your doctor.