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an arm covered in moles has water dripping on it

The Drip, Drip, Drip Of Skin Cancer

The feeling when I head to the dermatologist is usually a level below apprehension but above mere curiosity. What will she find this time? There’s always something, even if it’s what she sometimes calls a “little guy” that she needs to zap. The guys like to hang out in groups on my hands and arms – the areas with the most sun damage. They could be squamous cell carcinomas, actinic keratoses, yucky warts, or generic little raised red dots from dry skin or irritation.

I keep getting skin cancer

Skin cancer is a drip, drip, drip. It didn’t come on with a bang like when I got leukemia in 2003. It started happening in small encroachments after I got a stem cell transplant (also called a bone marrow transplant). It is likely that I will keep getting skin cancers. As I stated previously, they’re a product of past sun exposure, long-term prednisone use, and the increased risk associated with allogenic stem cell transplants (those that use cells from a donor or cord blood.)

I had one basal cell, in my ear of all places. Countless others have been squamous cell carcinomas in situ – on the skin. My “squamous cell radar” can usually detect their beginnings in little areas of flakey skin. When I got my first one, I was more nervous, since it was new. I was alarmed when I heard “skin cancer,” but the “in situ” part calmed me down. I asked her to repeat that it was on the skin only. I asked her to repeat that it was not a melanoma.

Definitions can be scary

Definitions, if you look them up and see them on paper, er, um, I mean, on the screen, can scare you with their worst-case-scenario descriptions. Such was the case when I looked up “squamous cell carcinoma in situ” and found this definition from the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

“Squamous cell carcinoma in situ (SCCIS) is a superficial growth of cancerous cells on the skin’s outer layer. It is not a severe condition but could develop into a full form of invasive skin cancer if not detected early or well managed. It is also known as carcinoma in situ in the literature or as Bowen disease after John T. Bowen, an American dermatologist who first described the condition in 1912.”1

From calm to crazed

After feeling reassured by the “not a severe condition” part, I got scared by
“could develop into a full form of invasive skin cancer.” Red alert! You can go from calm to crazed without even knowing it has happened. But then if you step back and take it in context, it is not so threatening. The rest of the sentence is what counts: “if not detected early or well managed.” 2

A dermatologists checks my skin every three months. To me that sounds “well managed.” I go to Boston, 90 miles from home, for these appointments. These trips can be tiring, but it’s the best medical care around. I assume that others in Skin Cancer Land are also carefully monitored.

Red alert!

When looking up the relationship of skin cancer to stem cell transplants so I could describe it correctly, I came upon a report about a woman, with a history similar to mine, who died after a squamous cell cancer spread through her body. Another red alert! As I said, we need to remember that when we read about dire scenarios, or know of someone who had a bad outcome, it doesn’t mean the same thing is going to happen to us. Still, I kind of wish I hadn’t read it.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The SkinCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1658387613000083
  2. https://www.cancertherapyadvisor.com/home/cancer-topics/skin-cancer/allogeneic-hsct-recipients-have-increased-risk-for-skin-cancer/

Comments

  • Lou Lou Bird
    3 months ago

    This may sound ignorant, which I suppose it is, so please educate me. Has it been scientifically proven that stem cell transplants increase the risk of skin cancer? Because if there is research related to it I think this info. needs to be shared more. I haven’t heard of it until I started reading about it on this site. But, I haven’t seen any research on the subject and it’s an important subject to understand.

  • RonniGordon moderator author
    3 months ago

    I cited it in previous articles on the site. If you look up “stem cell transplants and squamous cell cancer” it comes right up. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26454261

  • ssavoie1
    3 months ago

    Great article and you hit on many things I have felt. I had a melanoma in situ on my ear in 2017 and then just had a melanoma on my back which was stage 1. I also see my dermatologist every three months (also in MA) but things changed after my last melanoma. I have had 9 biopsies and 3 excisions this year already and it’s taking its toll on me. My last visit was 4 biopsies and I was convinced I had to have another melanoma but luckily I didn’t.

    I have often wondered if I should go to Boston rather than UMass in Worcester. Now that I am more nervous and have a million moles I’m beginning to think it may be time to seek out a higher caliber team of doctors. It’s difficult since I do feel that my Dr found two melanomas so far and I like her a lot. I just wonder if she’s a bit overwhelmed with me since I am such a challenging case. I’d love to hear who you see and why you chose them!

    Thanks!

  • RonniGordon moderator author
    3 months ago

    Where do you live? UMass Worcester is well-respected. I go to Brigham and Women’s Dermatology, in Boston and Chestnut Hill, and have seen different docs in the practice and they’re all excellent. Glad you liked the article!

  • RonniGordon moderator author
    3 months ago

    I think I said Brigham Dermatology has two locations. They have a separate Mohs center at another hospital. I’ve seen only women doctors and they are all so beautiful! Must know how to take care of their skin. If you look at some of my past posts you’ll see some in which I write how lovely they are. Here is the link.https://www.brighamandwomens.org/dermatology

  • ssavoie1
    3 months ago

    I live in Lancaster. I’m happy with my dermatologist but she said she was moving on to different procedures and would send me to one of her colleagues. If I’m going to change anyway, I may consider going to Boston. I am a challenging case and I’m only 49 so I want to get the best team around me that I can.

    Thanks!

  • hawkfan01
    3 months ago

    Good afternoon! I thought I was reading about my mother, which is why I’m on this site! The only difference is that she never had a bone marrow transplant. But she has been diagnosed with “Invasive, squamous cell carcinoma”. She has had more moh’s surgery than I can count and we never make it to her regularly scheduled 3 month appointments, because a new growth always pops up before that time frame that needs serious intervention and fast before it gets too big. The surgeon does not want to do anymore surgeries on her, because she has a difficult time healing now – especially on her shins. She is 93 yrs old. She always says “I’m outliving my skin”.

    Currently, she has one coming out of the area around her right temple. I don’t see how they can just burn it. I got her an appointment as quick as I could. She has a bad one in her shin that she refused treatment for because it will be a problem healing. The doctor tried to tell her that she shouldn’t ignore it, but I feel my mother is just sick of the whole thing now. She has great anxiety about these visits and even about just getting zapped now.

    She spent many years in the sun in Florida playing golf and never wore sunscreen. She knows now that was a big mistake. But she can’t go back. I totally get it – what you write about. All one can do is stay on top of it. I send you hugs and I appreciate what you write. Thank you!

  • CarolAnn
    2 months ago

    Hello. I am 67 and am presently healing from my sixth, or is it the seventh, squamous cell carcinoma on my lower legs. This one is about three inches above the bend of my ankle and just to the side of the bone. I have skinny ankles so there’s not a lot of tissue there in the first place. This has been my biggest and most difficult healing surgery yet, and I’ve been doing this for over 15 years now. Last month when my dermatologist was off for Spring break with her kids I got in quickly to see the other dr I the practice about two places that came up just the week before and days after seeing my dr to follow up on my surgical wound. I hope this isn’t sounding muddled. The two new places in question were exactly like the one I’d just had removed and just inches away. The dr talked to me about another option other than biopsy and surgery, especially since these are so close in proximity and I still healing from the last. To make an already long story less long, she injected the sites with a chemo and anti-inflammatory cocktail and I scheduled a followup with her in three weeks. This week when I went in and she estimated the larger lump was reduced by 25%. She injected them both again and I will see my own dermatologist for my regular 3 mo checkup the first week of May. I was a little nervous about not having the usual yay or nay biopsy but because I was certain, as was she, that these were more SCCs I was willing to go with the other option to see what happens. I haven had any of the pain I was having at both sites, the smaller is on the back of my calf, since the injections, however the injections themselves were more painful the second time than the first. I was just wondering if this might be an option worth consideration for your mother given her age and the delicacy of her skin. I completely understand her feelings regarding the freezing as I am very sensitive to that myself. They make me nauseous and light headed, which I sometimes think people have a hard time believing, and which makes no difference to me. Hey, I’m delicate! For about 30 minutes after the injections I didn’t hurt at all and haven’t since. I pray this melts away the cancers because this is soo much better than the surgeries. I’m sorry you mother is having to deal,with all of this. I’m a California girl living in Kansas who grew up in the SO CAL sun at the beach and desert when there was no such thing as sunscreen and noone was aware of the dangers of those sunburns that blistered and peeled, especially for us blue eyed blond Swedish girls. Today we pay. I expect I will for the rest of my days. Hard news but true.

  • RonniGordon moderator author
    3 months ago

    Thanks, and good luck to your mother!

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