News

HealthWatch: Skin Cancer And Cosmetic Procedures

Skin Exam (credit: CBS 2)

Skin Exam (credit: CBS 2)

CBS New York (con't)

Affordable Care Act Updates: CBSNewYork.com/ACA

Health News & Information: CBSNewYork.com/Health

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — You go to a doctor, usually a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon, for a cosmetic procedure. Last year there were more than a million cases of skin cancer. What’s the connection? A cosmetic procedure is the perfect opportunity for early detection, so in a way, botox could save your life, Dr. Max Gomez reports.

Malignant melanoma is a deadly skin cancer that dermatologists say is rising at frightening levels.

“There is no chemotherapy for it. It’s a really fatal disease and especially in young women,” said Dr. Michelle Green of Lenox-Hill Hospital.

The good news is that melanomas and all skin cancers are very curable if found at an early stage, and that’s easy. They’re out in the open, but you have to look for them everywhere.

“Their back, their rear end, their feet, you know, behind their ears – these are places that are overlooked, even by internists on a physical exam,” said Dr. Green.

“It was definitely something cosmetic, like an acid peel or something that was going to make me look beautiful,” recalled skin cancer patient Sheila Chervin.

Chervin came in for a cosmetic procedure. Dr. Green said, not before she does a full-body skin exam.

“I was surprised. I want to look beautiful, what are you looking at my body for?” Chervin said. “She found something.”

That something was skin cancer. Fortunately it was an early stage, curable squamous cell cancer. The point is that cancer could have grown for years and maybe even spread before it was found.

However, a recent study found that only a little over half of family doctors and general practitioners perform full skin exams. They or the patients may be in a rush, or they’re embarrassed to get completely undressed, but it pays off.

“I would say 80-percent of patients who come in for something cosmetic, not related to skin cancer, not related to a skin exam. I always make a manditory skin exam part of the visit and 80-percent of the time I’ve found skin cancer or precancer the very least.

Chervin said she’s learned her lesson. “For the past 15 or 20 years, I’ve been getting a full body scan twice a year.”

Here’s something else to remember: skin cancer can be tricky to identify, so if you’re going to go to the trouble of a full skin exam, you’re better off going to a dermatologist. They’re trained to recognize skin cancer.

Don’t end up with advanced cancer because you were too busy or embarrassed.

A real thorough scan can take 20 minutes to do. As for how often you should get one, it depends on your skin, previous history of sun exposure, and family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma and so forth. Ideally once a year unless you’ve had some cancer, in which case twice a year. Or if you have a lot of moles, also twice a year.