Wednesday, December 29, 2010

CAUTION: Sores that won't heal may be skin cancer!!!

I've had several family members with skin cancer and can share several stories to drive home the need for regular skin cancer screening but a recent event does a much better job.  I hope that the following story will prod anyone to get a check up ASAP for themselves or their loved ones.  The short story:  a friend's mom had a Moh's procedure to remove all the skin on the side of her nose.  For 2 years, she asked her doctor about a sore spot  and he told her it was due to sensitive skin.  He was clueless and it cost her a lot in medical procedures, pain and suffering - especially the pain and suffering. 

The long version: A friend called in a panic just before Christmas - her Mom had skin cancer on the side of her nose and they had to operate immediately.   She was especially upset because she'd asked her mother's doctor about the sore for more than 2 years.   She finally moved her mom to another state and took her for a check up.  Before her Mother sat down in the doctors office, he asked about the sore on her nose and sent her down the hall to a dermotologist.  She was in surgery within a couple of days.  It was a severe basil cell melanoma and had nearly spread to the skin around her eye.  

The surgery and subsequent reconstruction were gruesome and hard on her 84 year old body.  After all the the skin was removed from the side of her nose, ( Did you HEAR ME???!!!ALL THE SKIN!! from the side of her nose *OH MY GAWD!!)) she had to have a flap of skin grafted from her forehead to her nose.  The bad part is that the flap had to remain partially attached to the forehead AND stitched to the nose. It remained this way - an open bloody wound -  for 3 weeks.  The flap permits blood to flow to the tissue to keep it alive while the graft grows into the skin surrounding the surgical wound.  Eventually the grafted skin will get enough blood supply from the skin around the nose so the flap can be removed.   

This was hard on her Mom, it was hard to make her understand why it was necessary and what happened to her.  She's a sweet kind woman and has become quite forgetful so it was hard for her to process it all.   The really sad part is that it could have been avoided, literally, years before if her doctor had taken it seriously.  All the doctor had to do was refer her to a dermotologist. Why he didn't is a mystery but he deserves to be charged with malpractice.   My friend is in the process of filing complaints in 2 states where he sees patients - Washington and Idaho.  

This sort of skin cancer is NOT reserved for the elderly and years of sun exposure.  My own nephew, age 27, had the same surgery two years ago.  He had a recurring pimple on the side of his nose and he let it go a long time before seeing a dermotologist.  Because it was "just a pimple", he thought he'd get a prescription for a topical antibiotic or a chemical peel, he had no idea it was skin cancer.   The sore would erupt like a pimple then get red, bleed a bit and heal up.  This sort of cancer was new to all of us in the family.  We knew to look for dark spots that were not symmetrical.  We new to suspect anything that grew in size or had various colors - we didn't know to look for a wound like a cold sore.  Since his original Moh's procedure - removal of a whole nostril, a skin flap and reconstructive adjustments to the skin - he's had two smaller spots removed.  These were caught in time but he'll have to be vigilant - and watch the skin all over his body - for the rest of his life.

So - the bottom line is simple - CATCH IT WHEN IT'S SMALL  - the treatment is simple and relatively painless.  Wait, and you'll have to suffer a gruesome surgery and reconstruction - or it might cost your life.  

Here's a link that should scare you into a visit to the doctor early on:  CAUTION:  This site contains VERY GRAPHIC IMAGES that may disturb you.  It shows patients after surgery for skin cancer and before reconstructive surgery.    Some of these are really, really, gruesome and nearly made me sick but if it gets you to the doctor - then I did my job:

I have a cold sore that won't heal, what is it?  Grandma has a sore that won't heal. Grandpa has a sore that won't heal.  Do I have cancer sore soar that won't heal.