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Updated: 02/12/2017 08:00:01AM

Skin cancer: Boomers beware while you can

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RTD Staff: Jeff Shapiro. Photo was taken Wednesday, August 4, 2010.

by Joyce Minor

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Recently, I visited my dermatologist and had biopsies taken of four suspicious spots on my skin. I go about every six months. Why? Because over the course of my adult life, I have had five small skin cancers surgically removed. Only one left a tiny scar.

So how do you know if a spot on your skin is just an age spot or if it’s a skin cancer?

Skin cancers are generally symmetrical in appearance, meaning they appear round or oval in shape. If a spot has ragged edges or changes shape over time it may be a cancer.

The only way to know for sure, of course, is to have a dermatologist or general surgeon take a biopsy of the lesion and send it to a lab for testing. Then you wait a month or so for results.

You will usually receive a report of the result by mail from the laboratory. Your doctor will receive the same results and may call you to arrange further treatment. If a biopsy tests positive for cancer, don’t panic. They are almost always small and fully treatable.

If it is malignant, the doctor will probably offer you a choice of treatments. You can have it surgically removed, frozen off with liquid nitrogen, or you may try a variety of topical ointments. All of these remedies have proven effective on certain types of cancers but none is guaranteed to work on every cancer. The only treatment that doesn’t work is no treatment at all. Surgery is the most likely to actually rid you of the cancer but it can be expensive. Fortunately, Medicare and most Medicare supplement insurance plans do cover it. The brief surgery is usually performed in the doctor’s office or in a local outpatient surgery unit.

It’s generally not painful. In fact, the only discomfort will likely be the injection of a local anesthetic. The entire surgical procedure may take as little as 10 minutes but could be longer depending how many sites must be biopsied.

Generally, most small skin lesions either will be not cancerous or a basic treatable type referred to as a basal cell. These are generally small and surgically removable, leaving only a small scar that may become almost imperceptible over time.

However, once you have had a skin cancer of any kind, no matter how small, you should begin scheduling regular checkups with a dermatologist because it is quite unlikely that your first skin cancer will be your last.

I am not a doctor, so I really can’t give medical advice except to say that skin cancers are almost always treatable, if caught early, so don’t ignore them. We Baby Boomers all grew up before the advent of sunscreen and sun block products. We laid out and played in the sun for hours and never really worried about getting sunburned. If you are a Boomer you will almost certainly develop at least one skin cancer as you age. Don’t ignore it. I have three friends who did and regretted it until the day they died.

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