Playing Armchair Doctor Could Be Dangerous!
Last updated: May 2023
Many people don’t give a lot of thought to skin cancer, until they or someone they know have been diagnosed with it. (I know I didn’t.) Chances are, though, that you or someone you love may be affected by skin cancer during some point in your life. Consider this: one in five Americans will have skin cancer by the age of 70.
Do not ignore suspicious growths
Alarmingly, many people ignore suspicious areas on their skin, brushing them off as dry skin or a bump or weird mole that has always been there. This could be dangerous. Even though basal cell and squamous cell cancers have good success rates for removal with treatment, there are over 3,000 deaths in the United States each year from basal cell carcinoma and over 15,000 deaths from squamous cell carcinoma. Putting off seeking treatment could make you one of the statistics.
Early treatment leads to a higher survival rate
What could be especially dangerous is if a suspicious area is actually melanoma. Prolonging seeking treatment is not in one’s best interest, as melanoma can spread to lymph nodes and other organs. With early treatment, melanoma has an estimated five-year survival rate of around 99%. The survival rate falls to 63% if it has spread to the lymph nodes, and 20% if it metastasizes to other organs.1
Surgery has its limits
While it’s true that basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are typically slower growing, delaying treatment is never a good idea. As my doctor told me many years ago, what looks like a small dot of skin cancer on the outside of your skin can be an area the size of a silver dollar underneath your skin. Which means that the entire area under the skin has to be removed, which means that your surgical site is going to be larger. The longer the cancerous area is allowed to grow, the larger it could get. Throughout my first 20 or so years of having skin cancer, I had a plastic surgeon perform the surgeries. He was an excellent surgeon and was very skilled in moving tissue to ‘close the gap’ on a surgical area and making sure the wound wouldn’t look disfiguring. But even an excellent surgeon has his limits – if left too long, basal cell and squamous cell areas can spread, making removal more difficult.
Do not self-diagnose skin cancer
If you have a suspicious area (or areas) on your skin, don’t play armchair doctor and try to self-diagnose with photos from the internet. While photos you find online may be helpful, they can also be detrimental if you decide that your mole or area doesn’t look anything like what’s in photos you’ve seen online and choose to not have it examined. Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ for skin cancer. Skin cancer can take on many different forms, and not all cancerous areas may look like photos you see online. Yes, it’s natural to want to do some research, but don’t stop there – make an appointment with a dermatologist to have a skin check, as earlier detection and treatment are best and increase your chances for successful removal.
Do you sunscreen in the fall?