Basal Cell Carcinoma—The "Good" Skin Cancer
But I Just Have a Little Bump on My Nose
That's what I thought, anyway. There was just a little bump on my nose that wouldn't go away. I've got to mention that I love my nose. Yep, I'm very vain—and have a cute little pug nose that I adore. It's a perfect size and shape, and for the first 36.5 years of my life, it never really caused me any problems.
The problem now was a little bump. You wouldn't notice it without being told it was there. I kept thinking it was just a little tiny flesh-colored bump (like a mole, maybe). It wasn't acne—but it just wouldn't go away, no matter how many different types of serums, etc., that I tried.
In May of last year, I went to the dermatologist for a skin check. The doctor took one look at this seemingly harmless bump and said, "I'd like to get a scraping of that." That's when I knew it might not be just some aggravating bump that I could zap with a cosmetic product or procedure.
My Bout with Skin Cancer
A little background:
I'm a fair-skinned, red-haired, blue-eyed girl with freckles. Even though I knew better, I used to lay out in the sun. I used to go to tanning beds, and I even used to put iodine and baby oil on myself to try to "encourage" a tan. Once, in high school, I remember getting so badly sunburned at Fernandina Beach, FL, that even my feet were beet red and I couldn't wear shoes. Even flip-flops hurt. What was I thinking? I'm sure I wasn't. Everyone knows teenagers are invincible, after all.
Needless to say, I deeply regret all of it now. That scraping turned out to be basal cell carcinoma. It's the "good" kind of skin cancer because it doesn't metastasize (spread to other parts of the body). That being said, the basal cell will grow. Its top is like the tip of the iceberg. It looks seemingly harmless, but the hidden part could sink a ship.
My dermatologist referred me to a specialist—one who is trained in the MOHS procedure. A Dr. Frederic Mohs created the concept, and it's most widely successful (99.8%) for removing basal cell carcinomas (the most common type of skin cancer). The MOHS surgeon deadens the area, digs out a huge hunk, then freezes it, observes it under a microscope, and determines if the margins are cancer free. If they are, the surgeon and the nurse pack the spot, bandage it, and you can go home. If not, they have to revisit the area, dig out another chunk of flesh, freeze and observe it, and determine if the margins are cancer free. You get the idea. My little bump required TWO revisits. Then, they took a little cartilage from behind my left ear and attempted to re-build the little curved part of my nostril. I didn't feel a thing during the procedure. On the way home, however, it hurt like hell.
When I got home, I was fairly unimpressed at the lovely yellow gauze stuff packed in my nose. Apparently my little basal cell had a serious root system that was out for vengeance. The doctor nearly had to punch a hole through my left nostril. There went the pug nose, but the cancer was gone.
What Causes Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Since then, I've learned that over one million American people are diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma every year (I wonder what the world-wide figure is). It's primarily caused by sun exposure, but very rarely, radiation, arsenic poisoning/exposure, tattoos, vaccinations, etc., can cause the condition. Most people affected have light-colored eyes, fair skin, freckles, and a history of sun exposure. It usually occurs in older men and women; however, doctors have noted that more and more people in their twenties and thirties are being diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma.
What Can You Do to Prevent Skin Cancer?
Well, given that the cancer could result from even childhood sun exposure, the only way to prevent it is by wearing sunscreen consistently. That means every day—sunscreen isn't just for going to the pool, beach, lake, etc. And don't just apply it on your face. Wear it on your neck, chest, arms, and legs as well.
It helps if the sunscreen contains mexoryl, which blocks UVA and UVB rays. Re-apply sunscreen after a couple of hours. Wear a hat that covers your face and neck. Try to avoid the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. (yep—nearly impossible to do), when the sun is at its brightest. And above all, make sure your children are slathered up with plenty of sunscreen!
How Do I Know If I Have Basal Cell Carcinoma?
You might notice:
- An open sore that bleeds
- A reddish crusty patch of skin
- A shiny bump (often mistaken as a mole)
- A pink growth with a raised border
- A shiny-looking scar-like area
These are just five common warning signs. It's best (especially if you are a likely candidate) to go to the dermatologist at least once a year for a skin check. Report anything unusual to him—even if it just looks like a little bump. Also, if you have basal cell once, you are more likely to have a recurrence than the general population.
Your doctor may or may not recommend MOHS surgery. There are other treatments, too, but the most important thing is not to ignore anything unusual on your skin. It might be nothing, but it might also be a nightmare. As for me and my nose, I still have a little bit of scar tissue, which is like a knot in my nostril. My nose is still red most of the time (easily covered with makeup), and it's probably not ever going to look like it did, BC (before cancer). But at least I'm skin cancer free.