Developing skin cancer: Beth Hunt shares her personal story

Like most kids growing up in Arkansas, I spent a lot of time as a child out in the sun. Fishing and water skiing with my family on Lake Hamilton… swimming at my grandparents house…and the occasional trip to the Gulf Coast for some beach fun. Sunburns were just part of summer life.  What I didn’t realize, was the damage those burns would cause 25 to 30 years later.

In the summer of 2012, celebrating my son’s birthday at the lake, I noticed a sore on the side of my nose. I chalked it up to being a blemish and covered it with makeup each night on the news.  That sore never went away.  As much as I knew something wasn’t right, I ignored it for almost three years.

I made an appointment with a dermatologist who had come highly recommended, Dr. Ray Parker with Dermatology Group of Arkansas.
Dr. Parker says, “We ask the patient what spots are you concerned about. What spots do you want us to check.”

He said that spot on the side of my nose I had ignored for so long, was one to be concerned about.

“On closer inspection, we looked and we saw it could possibly be skin cancer. We started out doing a biopsy on the skin cancer, and we sent it to the lab and they confirmed that it was carcinoma,” said Dr. Parker

That tiny sore was squamous cell carcinoma. Carcinomas, either squamous cell or basal cell, are caused by cumulative sun damage. Years and years of sun exposure or severe sun burns as a child.  The other type of skin cancer is melanoma. It’s less common, but more serious. Also caused by too much exposure to UV rays.

I’m at a higher risk for having both, and you are too if you have fair skin, a history of sunburns, if you have many moles, a family history of skin cancer or if you’ve tanned in a tanning bed.

My repeated use of tanning beds in high school and college is probably my greatest regret. I knew it wasn’t good, but I didn’t think I’d get cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, indoor ultraviolet tanners are 74% more likely to develop skin cancer than those who have never tanned indoors.

Dr. Parker says, “They’ve shown in the big study they’ve done over 10 years, that it definitely causes skin cancer.”

The worst thing about skin cancer is, left untreated, it can kill you. The second worst thing is worrying about a scar you may have after treatment.  For now I’m okay, but I’ll have to pay close attention to my skin for the rest of my life and have regular check-ups.

Dr. Parker says, “It is very common that once you have one carcinoma, you can develop a second carcinoma.”

To limit your risk, Dr. Parker offers some advice. He says, “First of all, stay out of the tanning bed. Tanning bed causes cancer.  Second of all, limit your sun exposure. Wear sunscreen. My favorite is 50 or greater. You have to re-apply. Every two hours, we recommend that.”

And most importantly, pay attention to your skin.  Anyone can get skin cancer, and a suspicious bump or spot is something you should never ignore.

Dr. Parker says, “Fair skinned individuals have to be even more careful out in the sun, although skin cancer can develop in darker skinned individuals and African Americans. So, everyone has to be vigilant and check their skin.”

Dr. Parker says pregnancy and hormones can cause moles to change, so he always recommends pregnant patients to get checked during, and especially after, pregnancy.  Also, when it comes to sunscreen… did you know it expires? It loses its effectiveness over time, so if it’s been over one year solid, get new sunscreen.

**The type of sunscreen Dr. Ray Parker recommends to his patients is Neutrogena Dry Touch SPF 55 or SPF 70.**

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