Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Still Learning: 7 Things to Know about Basal Cell Cancer

Though Flattering50 is a style blog, I feel compelled to write a little about my recent run-in with a basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. (Good health is flattering, yes?) For this post, I’m sharing what I learned in case it helps Flattering50 readers.

First off, let me state the obvious: I am not a doctor. For the clinical facts (ie, definition, symptoms, treatment, etc.) about basal cell carcinomas, I refer you to your highly-trained dermatologist. Or...for a few immediate insights, you might take a peek at a reputable online medical source on basal cells, like the Mayo Clinic.

If you and I were to have lunch this week, here are a few tips I would share:
  1. A basal cell carcinoma may appear as a small pearly bump. My basal cell was tiny; the size of a pinhead or little pimple. It looked like any number of bumps on my over 50 body.
  2.  My basal cell bled and scabbed for more than 2 weeks, which alerted me to the possibility that something wasn’t right. 
  3.  It's best to get a biopsy sooner than later. I was told that unlike a melanoma, basal cell carcinomas rarely spread to other parts of your body. But they can grow. Since most basal cells are found on the face and neck and are removed surgically, you want to get it treated sooner (when it’s smaller) than later. 
  4. Find a dermatology surgeon who is an expert with mohs surgery. Mohs surgery, an outpatient procedure, is often used to remove a basal cell carcinoma. The surgeon removes the skin tissue that is positive for carcinoma. Since he or she is often removing facial tissue, you want a surgeon who does this procedure constantly and knows how to get all the bad tissue without damaging the good tissue.
  5. Find an expert mohs surgeon with excellent plastic surgery skills. Once again, if the basal cell is on your face, you want the minimal amount of scarring. My cell was near my left nostril—in other words, smack dab in the middle of my face. My surgeon gave me little stitches above and below the skin along my “laugh line” to minimize the long-term visible scarring. 
  6. Consider taking the next day off. I found the pain minimal—nothing that a couple of extra strength OTC pain relievers couldn’t handle. But I wish I had planned to take the day off because a massive "pressure bandage" was placed on my face and needed to stay there for 24 hours. The bandage, which is designed to help stop the bleeding, is like a very thick white bolster—again, smack dab in the middle of my face. Frankly, I could have done without the gawking.
  7. Be fanatically about using sunblock on the scar for six months. Apparently, my new scar is highly sensitive to sunlight and can be permanently discolored, if exposed to sunlight. Regardless of whether I'm at the beach or shopping in New York City, I'm apply sunblock to the scar every two hours. 
 Have you had a basal cell carcinoma? Do you have any additional tips to offer Flattering50 readers?