Caroline Cranshaw: Why you need to be worried about skin cancer

Warning: This article contains graphic images

Skin cancer isn’t a sexy topic, but it’s still a serious issue that needs to be discussed. It doesn't matter what colour or age you are; Bob Marley died of melanoma when he was just 36 years old. Skin cancer was something that never even crossed my mind as something that could affect me until I was diagnosed with it a month ago.

I pierced my nose around 12 years ago and developed a little skin coloured mole where the hole was within a few months. I took the piercing out thinking the bump would go away, but it didn't. Over the years, I ask my doctor about it, who tried to freeze it off with no success (the bump just got bigger.) I asked other doctors about it whenever I saw someone new, who all told me that it was nothing to worry about.


Before

I finally decided to get it removed as it seemed to be getting bigger, so I booked an appointment with a dermatologist. I thought it was going to be very minor, thinking maybe the doctor would just laser it or scrap it off and I might have a bit of a scab for a week. I was utterly shocked when the doctor took one look at it and said, “That's skin cancer, you going to need surgery. I'll do a biopsy, but I know what the result will be: Basal Cell Carcinoma.”


During surgery

He was so confident it was cancer he booked me for Mohs surgery (a specialist type of surgery especially for skin cancer) in two weeks time, right then and there. One week later the results came back, and the doctor was right. This news completely blindsided me. How could I have skin cancer? I’ve worn sunscreen my whole life and can't remember ever having a sunburn on my face.


After surgery

However, I’m blonde and blue-eyed and spent my California summers growing up as a swim instructor and lifeguard. And I have to admit, I occasionally went to tanning beds as a teenager. They are now finding that some skin cancers may form from a combination of UV rays from the sun and trauma to the skin (scars and burns) like in my case.

  • 1 person dies from skin cancer every hour, in the USA alone.
  • Around 2,800 people will die of non-melanoma skin cancer and about 8,000 will die of melanoma in the U.S. this year.
  • Skin cancer accounts for more than 50% of all cancers combined and is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer among men and women.

In New Zealand, it's estimated that 69,000 Kiwis are diagnosed with skin cancer every year. Of these, an estimated 67,000 are non-melanoma skin cancers and more than 2,000 are melanomas, the most deadly form of skin cancer. New Zealand now has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world and it's estimated that over 40% of New Zealanders will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime.

The latest figures from the Ministry of Health of deaths a year by skin cancer are:

  • 489 deaths from skin cancer (320 males and 169 females)
  • 356 deaths were from melanoma
  • 133 deaths from non-melanoma skin cancer

Globally, over 3 million non-melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed each year. Children, men and women of every skin colour and race are diagnosed with skin cancer every year around the world.

I thought skin cancer was something that only people over 60 got. And if you were younger than that, you must have worshipped the sun or seriously abused sunbeds. I never in a million years thought this could happen to me. I went for my surgery, again assuming this would be very minor, maybe a few stitches and back at work a few days.

Again, I was surprised when they had to cut a massive hole out of my nose to remove all of the tumour. It took over 50 stitches to close it back up. I now have a massive scar my face, but it’s still early days and I’m told in time the scar will be barely visible. The problem with me is that the cancer had been growing for over ten years, so the surgery was much more invasive.

Skin Cancer Facts: There are three main types of Skin Cancer: Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Melanoma.

You should see your doctor for an examination if you:

  • Notice any unusual skin changes (a new mole or bump)
  • Notice a spot or mole that is different to others
  • Have a mole growing out of a scar or burn that wasn’t there before
  • A bump, patch or spot that appears suddenly

What to look for:

  • A small lump (spot or mole) that is waxy, a pale colour, and a smooth texture
  • A change in colour, size, shape or texture
  • The spot bleeds, is itchy or you can see tiny veins in the surface
  • Something about it looks different to other spots
  • Has become raised (sticking out) or looks shiny in appearance
  • Rough and scaly patches on the skin
  • Flat scaly areas of the skin that are grey, red or brown

Do not be afraid to demand a biopsy or a referral if you are concerned or have a funny feeling about a spot on your body. The sooner skin cancer is treated, the better the outcome. The most significant problem with skin cancer today is it's not being diagnosed soon enough. The good news is it’s easily treated when caught early.

Resources:

Caroline Cranshaw is a hypnotherapist, founder and trainer at the New Zealand Integrative Hypnotherapy Training Institute and the author of The Smoking Cure. Find out more about her at nzhypnotherapy.co.nz. Listen to Caroline's new podcast WTF Stories & Advice.