You’ve just been told that the skin biopsy you had done at the dermatologist’s office last week showed skin cancer. The news hits you hard. Me? Really? Why me?
Most people feel the same hearing news like that. Many questions start to run through their minds once they hear the news. Practicing for 18 years as a skin cancer surgeon, I answer these typical skin cancer questions with multiple patients each day.
Is this a curable problem? With some exceptions, most skin cancer is highly curable.
What kind of treatment do I need? Surgery is the most common treatment since the margins can be checked to be sure that the cancer is completely removed. Other treatments may also be appropriate (radiation, scraping and burning or in a small number of cases topical creams) depending on the type of cancer, location and other factors. We’ll discuss these further in a future blog.
How will I look after I am all healed? In all cases there is a scar, but in most cases it blends in pretty well, especially over 6-12 months.
How can I avoid having to go through this again?” The short answer is that everyone who has skin cancer must practice sun protection. This is a broad topic to be addressed in detail in a future blog.
However, I’d like to take a moment to dispel a common misconception with regard to sun protection. There is a mistaken impression that your future risk of skin cancer is entirely determined by your past behavior. While it is true that past sun exposure contributes to future risk, no matter how much sun exposure you've had in the past, being "good" today still matters.
The sun exposure that you get today is adding to the damage sustained over the years. “The fire is already burning,” I tell patients. “Getting sun today is like pouring gasoline on the fire!”
Even if a person who has had multiple skin cancers were to get no sun for the rest of their life, they may still develop a few additional skin cancers. However, the person who doesn’t cut their sun exposure may go on to have 10-20 additional cancers that need treatment.
It is never too late to start practicing sun protection! It makes a big difference.
More to come…
Michael Huether, M.D.