Don’t ignore the power of sunshine on your skin
Protecting his skin against the sun’s rays was never high on Elliott Christen’s priority list. Then, a dime-sized sore on the back of his ear changed his perspective on skin cancer prevention.
“I had a sore that would not heal. I went in to be seen by my doctor, and he could tell right away that it needed to be tested,” says Elliott.
Following a biopsy, Elliott received the news that the sore was cancerous. He says, “I was told that the carcinoma was most likely the result of years of sun burns and being exposed to sunlight. As kids, we never protected our skin from the sun, and being that I don’t spend a great deal of time outdoors now, I didn’t worry about it.”
According to Mayoclinic.com, there are three major types of skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Basal cell carcinomas and most squamous cell carcinomas are slow growing and highly treatable, especially if found early. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It affects deeper layers of the skin and has the greatest potential to spread to other tissues in the body. Squamous cell carcinoma also can spread internally.
Elliott was referred to William Remington, M.D., Mayo Clinic Health System otorhinolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat, and head and neck surgeon) at Winneshiek Medical Center for surgery. Dr. Remington says, “The ears are largely ignored when it comes to protection from the sun, and as a result, many carcinomas and melanomas develop there.”
Skin cancer forms primarily on areas of sun-exposed skin, including the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms and hands, and on the legs in women. However, Dr. Remington advises that it can also develop on areas that are rarely exposed to the sun – the palms, spaces between the toes and the genital area. Skin cancer affects people of all skin tones, including those with darker complexions.
A two-hour surgery removed the cancerous spot on Elliott’s ear. Testing determined that the cancer had not spread, and Elliott needed no further treatment after surgery.
Frequent follow-up visits have given Elliott a clean bill of health. He is now much more aware of the harm the sun can do to a person’s skin, and that sun exposure can be very damaging. “I always remember to wear a straw hat and sunscreen when outdoors. I hope that it doesn’t take a cancer-scare for others to remember to do the same.”