Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Skin cancer: better under the light than the knife
I’ve just been instructed to stay inside the house for the next 48 hours to avoid any sunlight whatsoever. It seems only fitting, because it’s sunlight that's put me in this predicament. I’ve just come from a visit to a dermatologist, where I underwent my most recent form of treatment for skin cancer, actually in this case for potentially precancerous actinic keratoses.
The procedure, called photodynamic therapy, involved smearing my barnacle-encrusted head with an acid, then zapping it with a special blue light for 17 minutes. The process burned a little and made me a bit claustrophobic, but otherwise it was just another way to spend St. Paddy's Day. Side effects are skin redness, swelling and scaling, and can last up to four weeks.
During my time under the bright light this morning, the second of two treatments, I recalled the times I ran about the world uncovered by a hat or sunscreen. As kids, we used to think sunburn was some sort of red badge of honor. We swam, played ball, and rode horses with buzz cuts and bare chests. I just looked up a Successful Farming story on skin cancer and discovered that one blistering sunburn in childhood doubles your risk of contracting melanoma, the most lethal of skin cancers.
This isn’t the first time I’ve paid the price for having had too much sun in my history. I’ve had cancers, both basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, scraped, burned, excised and radiated from my head, arm, and shoulder.
One time, as I watched a scalpel slice out a lesion along my temple, I was surprised to hear the surgeon mutter something like “it’s a serious treatment for a serious problem.”
This latest deal, the photodynamic therapy, is a way one might avoid the serious stuff again. Better, though, that I had learned earlier in life the recommended protections against skin cancer: protective clothing, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Seeing a dermatologist when you spot something suspicious is critical, too, of course.
As you might expect, farmers are at increased risk for skin cancer. Some research suggests that while farmers are well aware of the risk of skin cancer in their work, they tend not to use preventative measures—for the variety of reasons you can imagine. However, farmers are more likely to take health advice, including about skin cancer prevention and treatment, if it comes from people they trust, this same research shows.
So if you have someone's ear, then skin cancer is something you should talk about. It's a serious subject.
Farmer says it isn't smart to take skin cancer lightly
Mayo Clinic Skin cancer information
Levulan® Photodynamic Therapy (Levulan PDT)
Posted by John Walter at 12:04 PM