August 28, 2008 · Updated 4:40 PM
Years ago, I forget how many, but at least 20, someone gave me a picture they took of me and I was surprised to notice a brown spot about the size of a quarter on my cheek. It's not that I hadn't ever noticed it before but if it was becoming significant enough to catch the eye in a photograph, I figured I should look into it. I delved into the American Medical Association's Family Medical Guide, where I learned I was sporting what's called a pre-cancerous skin spot caused by over exposure to the sun many years ago.
If you don't do something about it, it will continue to grow and develop into one of three types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, which grows very slowly and does not spread to other parts of the body until it has been present a long time; squamous carcinoma, which can metastasize but is completely curable, and malignant melanoma, which often metastasizes throughout the body and can be life threatening.
The latter is what Sen. John McCain has had, four times. My onetime editor, Gene Gisley, had melanoma on his nose that required fairly frequent surgeries.
These spots can appear as scaly lesions (my brown spot), in warts and moles and in little lumps that appear and don't go away. I've had three on the left side of my neck, all squamous, none bigger than a match head, and all gone, each by a different treatment. The reason I am telling you all this is that when you've finished reading this, I want you to look in a mirror, especially if you are of Celtic origin as I am, with very fair skin. The disorder is very rare in dark skinned people. Look at your face and neck and on your arms and have someone look at your back for some mole or sore acting up and not going away. The son of a friend of mine learned he had melanoma when his girl friend, a nurse, noticed what looked like it on his back and sent him to a doctor. That's been a dozen years ago so even melanoma is curable when caught early, also the case with McCain. Every six months I see a dermatologist and have any pre-cancerous spots that have appeared frozen off with a shot of liquid nitrogen. There also is a skin cream called fluorouracil or Efudex-40, which you can rub on a suspect spot daily for two or three weeks and will kill the cancer cells. The final resort is surgery.
The first spot my doctor scraped off for a biopsy removed all the cancer cells in the scraping and never returned. A new one, however, appeared later, which we treated with the skin cream. It too vanished. The third one he elected to cut out surgically last April and the biopsy report said there were no cancer cells in the surrounding tissue. Another method we tried was rubbing the skin cream into my face nightly for a couple of weeks, goal being to kill any cancer cells under the skin before they developed sores. That cost $161 and I looked monstrous for about a month, bright red spots developing all over my face. Those were prospective pre-cancerous skin spots.
It didn't work, however, because I still had spots after that. The treatment took a long time to heal, especially the skin under my nose which was bright for a long time.
OK, now go look in the mirror. Skin cancer sneaks up on you and it doesn't matter who you are or how closely you are being monitored. Example: In one of the newspapers May 24 was this item:
"Britain's Prince Charles had a small noncancerous growth removed from his face, a spokesman at his official residence said Friday. Charles had the growth removed from the side of his nose late Thursday afternoon, shortly after he met with the Dalai Lama at Clarence House in London."
Look at your family and friends. Tell them if you see anything suspicious.
Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.