This is one of the most touching personal essays I have ever read about skin cancer.
Featured in the New York Times, sports journalist Tim Layden writes lyrically about the basal cell carcinoma on his nose and what it took to repair it. I encourage everyone to read it-- as a piece of literary writing, and equally importantly, as a wake-up call about the devastation that can result from a casual disregard for sun protection. As Layden writes:
How did I get myself into this mess? The same way that Hemingway’s Mike Campbell went broke in “The Sun Also Rises,” “Gradually, then suddenly.'’
Skin cancers are tricky because they often don't play by the rules, but they do have some classic features.
Basal cell carcinomas are pearly pink, sometimes with an area of bleeding or ulceration, or a central crater, and sometimes with just a subtle area of redness. They are usually found on the nose, ears, face, and neck. These are the most common skin cancers; 30% of Caucasian people will get a basal cell cancer in their lives.
Squamous cell carcinomas usually begin as a small reddish plaque. Often they don't have any symptoms, but they can bleed, ulcerate, and change over time. They are common on the lips, face, hands, scalp, and ears, and they metastasize throughout the body.
Melanomas are less common than the other two types of skin cancer, but they are the most deadly because of their aggressive tendency to metastasize. They are usually on sun-exposed areas, but can be found anywhere at all, including the eye, the fingernail, and even the bowel. The are usually pigmented, irregular, and evolve over time. The ABCDE nmemonic was developed for melanomas.
Much of my practice focuses on the excision of suspicious lesions and the reconstruction of skin cancers, so I am especially passionate about this topic.
Make sure you are vigilant about any new freckle, spot, mole, lump, or bump on your body. Skin cancer can happen to anyone, of any skin type-- not just the fair-skinned. When they are caught early, skin cancers are much less disfiguring and much more survivable. Get regular skin checks by a dermatologist. And wear zinc/ titanium based sunscreen everyday.