In order to better remind people to be safe on their skin this summer, I want to show you the final step in my skin cancer procedure.
This time, however, I will have some help from a very familiar face.
When we last left my removed piece of skin, it was being analyzed in the lab. Dr. Andrew Jun was checking to make sure that he got all of the cancerous cells.
Good news: It was clear.
A hole was left after the piece of skin was taken off of my nose. The piece was frozen, sliced and checked out under the microscope. It was the middle step in the “Mohs,” the skin cancer procedure I had done.
“So, it has the highest cure rate, it leaves the smallest scar,” Stenstrom said. “So, once we evaluate it, if there’s a positive margin, then a map is drawn in advance and we take just a little bit more of that positive margin, so it spares the most amount of normal skin. And then once the cancer is out, we decide the best way to close that hole.”
I spent the day with a pressure bandage on my face while I waited for the results. Jun, who performed the surgery, presented me with several options the next day.
Letting the hole heal on its own was one choice, but we decided to sew it shut.
I’m not going to lie, parts of the procedure hurt. However, it was mostly just a strange sensation of feeling tugging or pulling, but no serious pain.
This was the least dangerous form of skin cancer; basal cell. It is pretty common. About 1 in 5 of us will develop skin cancer in our lifetime, including someone that you might recognize.
Actor Hugh Jackman has had several “Mohs” procedures going back to 2017, also for the very treatable basal cell. He made the announcement a couple of months ago.
“I’ve just had two biopsies done,” Jackman said. “I just went to my doctor, Dr. Iron, who’s awesome, and she just saw little things, could be or could not be basal cell in her opinion.”
Melanoma is much more serious, and can be deadly.
“We like to teach patients the ‘ABCDEs,'” Stenstrom said. “So…asymmetrical. B is for border irregularities. C is for color variation, either within the same spot or one that just looks nothing like the others. If one is much darker than all the other moles or pink and enlarging. The D is for diameter. And the E is for evolution. Those are worrisome signs for a mole.”
Stenstrom said that many factors play a part in who’s most at risk, but there is one step we can all pay attention to, and it is a relatively easy one.
“First and foremost, regular sunscreen use has been particularly helpful for the non-melanoma skin cancers,” Stenstrom said. “So, there’s a lot of data to suggest that regular use of SPF or sun-protective clothing will reduce the risk of the non-melanoma basal cells and squamous cells.”
If her advice doesn’t carry enough weight for you, maybe this will help.
“This is all stuff that happened 25 years ago. It’s coming out now,” Jackman said. “Put some sunscreen on, you’ll still have an incredible time out there, alright? Please be safe.”
Bottom line: If you spot something that looks unusual, Stenstrom said to not wait.
“You could start with your primary care doctor, and if they have concerns, they could refer you if necessary,” Stenstrom said. “But nobody should sit around waiting, because it is a really common diagnosis.”
Stenstrom said to use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. As far as brands, she recommends those that you can afford, use liberally, and like the feel of it.
More information about skin cancer can be found on The Skin Cancer Foundation’s website