Friday, July 3, 2009

Skin Cancer

So I'm going to be like one of those people who have had a tracheotomy due to throat cancer and stand up on buses to warn people about the dangers of cigarette smoking.

When I was in New York last summer friends (applying sunblock for me) noticed an odd looking bit of skin on my back. Just above an average sized freckle this piece of skin is about 6mm x 4mm and looks like a fresh scar. Before I left NY it seemed to have faded so I stupidly ignored it instead of going to a decent specialist in New York at a time when I had health insurance. Anyway a few months ago I became aware that the said mark was still at large. I didn't like the look of it so I went to see a local doctor here who'd helped with my chest infection. His best guess was a fungal infection. 10 days, a course of fungal cream and $90 later this was ruled out as a cause.

After much searching I found a dermatologist in Cozumel. Her diagnosis was, as I feared, pre-cancer cells. She prescribed a 30 course of 5% Fluorouracil cream. This is a topical anti cancer agent (chemotherapy cream).

I was not convinced by this doctor. She had many certificates on her wall but did not use a light of magnifying glass or any of the usual doctor tools to come to her diagnosis. I find these things comforting. Anyway I came home and did some research on the internet. I'd been avoiding this so far because I did not want to scare myself. It looks like I probably have a Actinic Keratoses legion. Only 10% of these ever become squamos cell carcinomas (cancer) and the cream she'd prescribed was a pretty common treatment with a reported cure rate of 80-90%.

I was a bit freacked out at this point and really wanted to have it removed and sent to pathology, afterall psoriasis orr eczema can often be mistaken for Actinic Keratoses. After much angsting, and correspodning with a dermatologist in Playa who confirmed the treatment as valid, and discussing the matter with a friend in New York who'd used the cram for treatment of similar legions before, I decided to go with the treatment my Cozumel dermatologist recomended.

I have just finished the treatment. The cream basically burnes the affected area away. I went back to the doc and she said she could not tell if the legion had been cured until the skin healed. Another course of a different cream for 10 days should do it.

So I will find out soon if it has gone. Either way I think I am going to consult with a dermatologist in England when I get home in October.

What steps am I taking to avoid more damage to my skin? Well I work as a scuba instructor and am in the sun a lot so I bought three dive skins. These are t-shirts made of a lycra type material with a UV protection factor of 40. I wear these all day when I am at work to keep my back out of the sun as well as factor 80 sun block on my face and ears. I have always been very careful about applying sunblock to my face - purely driven by vanity but I would always leave out my ears. Ears are aparently a common place to get skin cancerr so they are now part of my regime. I reapply sunblock each time I get out of the water and always keep a bag containing a selection of sunblocks in my car.

I am lucky in that I was not really exposed to the sun in my teens when most damage occurs. In my 20ies though I was a bit of a sunworshiper and also spent a little bit of time on sunbeds. Unfortunately I will probably never know if this was a pre-cancer or something more inoccous, but I figured either way I need to look after my skin more.

So I wanted to ask people to be more responsible in the sun. Apply sunblock regularly and wear a t-shirt if snorkling or surfing. I work in a hotel and see badly burned people on a daily basis. Burning on the first few days just seems to be part of their vacation routine. 'No use in crying over spilled milk', they say but it takes just a little bit of effor to protect your skin and its well worth it.


zama07 said...

Hi Ana,
First let me introduce myself. I am Melissa and from NJ. I found your blog while surfing the internet for Isla Mujeres blogs. Anyhow, my point here is that I too had the same situation. My lesion was directly under my nose. I went to a very well respected doctor in NJ (voted one of the top dermatologists) and was diagnosed with the same as you. He said the 2 most sensitive areas of skin on the body are the side of the nose and directly underneat. Had this been anywhere else he would have taken a biopsy and taken it out and given me 2-3 stitches. Anyhow, he decide to use the cryogenic method. He did not want me to have stitches on my face. Cryogenics is dry ice applied with a long swab. When the nice doctor approached my face the end of the swab was smoking!!! Seriously!!! He said the first few days it would not look too bad, but thereafter it would get bad, scab, turn dark and fall off. It did. The lesion is gone. I thought you might be interested in this.

zama07 said...

Sorry about my typo's!!!! I didn't do a spell check, lol. I'm sure you get the idea though.

Anna said...

Thanks Melissa that is interesting. Can you give me the name of your doctor in New Jersey? I don't have US health insurance anymore but would like to find out how much it would cost to get this thing looked at privately. Scarey stuff right - thanks for taking the time to give me some advice

zama07 said...

Hi Anna,
How are you? I hope your lesion is getting better. I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. I don't check this everyday! Anyhow, you can email me at I am seeing the doctor tomorrow. I had three other areas of interest on my face, (thank you Mexico!!) and he is zapping them, (non-cancerous). He is not taking any new patients, however, I can ask him as a favor to me. I've been in his care since I was 17. I'm sure he would see you. I will ask how much an office visit is. Email me!


zama07 said...

P.S. I'm in North Jersey, Clifton. I'm sure you are familiar with the territory!