photo from Journal of Surgical Case Reports. August 2016.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the world. The good news is most skin cancers are easily treated and 100% curable. The only exception is melanoma, in a class all its own.
Fair skinned people and those who had sun exposure while they were young tend to have the most sun related lesions. Those of us over the age of 50 didn’t know that baking in the sun and getting a sunburn was not good for us when we were young. We thought it was what we had to do to get a good tan. Because a tan, well, made us look sexy and healthy. Little did we know at the time that we would pay a price for looking good.
Obvious lesions on the scalp, usually in men, and the face of women are hard to ignore. We know to go to the dermatologist and get them treated. The most common skin cancer and the easiest to treat is basal cell cancer. It is fairly easy to recognize. It tends to be round, scaly, and rather innocent appearing. It will continue to grow if not treated, a sign that it should be removed.
Granted, many skin lesions are benign and don’t continue growing. It is ok to ignore them as long as your health care provider has seen them. But ignoring skin lesions can be dangerous. There is some elderly who develop so many new skin lesions as they age, they start to ignore them. Some figure “What’s another growth? I’ve already got a hundred of them. They don’t hurt.” After a while, it is not worth mentioning them to their health care provider.
Even if they watch the lesion get bigger and bigger, they will ignore it. This happens more often that one would expect, especially in the extreme elderly (in their 80s or older). By the time a family member sees the lesion, they may be horrified by the size and appearance and shocked that their loved one did not tell them about it.
A good example of ignoring a skin cancer occurred in an 86-year-old woman who let a lesion on her shoulder grow for months. The photo above shows how it looked by the time she was seen by a health care provider. She gave as reasons for not getting it treated: taking care of her invalid husband, didn’t want to bother other family members, didn’t want to take the time. These reasons are not unusual. She placed others before herself. She finally had to see a provider because the lesion was so severe it bled and made her anemic. She was lucky. The surgeon was able to remove the cancer and close the wound. She also had radiation therapy to treat any remaining cancer cells.
Not all large skin cancers are removed as easily or heal as well as hers did. The take away message is this: Have all skin lesions checked. If they are benign, fine. No treatment needed. If they are cancer it is much easier to have them removed early when it is an easy procedure done in the office. Even skin cancer can spread to other areas and become a complicated treatment problem. Don’t wait for that to happen.
Same woman after surgery and radiation.
photo from Journal of Surgical Case Reports
Erika Bisgaard,1 Michael Tarakji,2 Frank Lau,2 and Adam Riker1,* Neglected Skin Cancer in the Elderly: A Case of Basosquamous Cell Carcinoma of the Right Shoulder. Journal of Surgical Case Reports, Aug 2016.