Most of us don't like the idea of having a permanent scar on our face. So when skin cancer pops up, many people will look for a qualified surgeon. Others opt for a treatment that may take a lot longer, but rarely leaves a scar.
Skin Cancer patient David Mace jokes about what could have turned into a major ordeal.
"Back in the time all the men rode around with their arm hanging out the window of the car looking out at the ladies, and we all got skin cancer on the left ear from the sun.”
A few months ago his dermatologist discovered a nodule on David's ear. It turned out to be basil cell carcinoma which is usually treated easily. But this one was in a delicate place.
"It wasn't a large tumor but it was kind of wound around the cartilage of the ear."
Surgery would involve taking a chunk out of his face, something that didn't appeal to him.
“It would have been a big hole with lots of plastic surgery afterward. So we elected to go the radiation route.
Dr. Charles Nichols says the Cancer Center is seeing a lot more patients with facial skin cancer who are choosing radiation therapy.
“Some of them have very early lesions. These are people who've just spent a little time in the sun, they go to the dermatologist find a small lesion on the nose, the ear, the eyelid. Then we see some patients who don't go to the doctor and they do present with advanced lesions.
Sometimes the cancer is so advanced that surgery isn't even an option. That's where radiation can help. Such as this case of a local man who waited to get help for cancer on his lip. This is what he looks like after 7 weeks of radiation.
Mr. Mace's case wasn't nearly that advanced but he's just as pleased with the outcome.
"The skin got a little dry, a little itchy but there's lotion for that and ointment for that and it didn’t interfere with water aerobic or anything else that I do.”
The biggest complaint with radiation treatment is the inconvenience of having to come into the Cancer Center 5-days a week for up to 7-weeks.
"The treatment takes 15 minutes a day--it's quick, it's easy they come in, they get treated go home or back to work or onto regular business. They will get some redness in the treatment area that tends to dissolve quickly."
Dr. Nichols says the reason radiation is so affective is they're now able to pinpoint the exact location of the tumor every time using a low dose of radiation. It all starts with a mask.
“We actually make a plaster mold of the patients face. Then we make a lead mask that fits on the patient. It's individualized for each patient. It treats exactly what we want to treat, but excludes the skin that we don't want to treat."
A lot of times skin cancer has what is known as satellite cells several millimeters from the lesion. Radiation can safely cover a wider area, without scarring.
As for Mr. Mace. He has a message for you.
"Stay out of the sun, and put the protectives on."