Victoria: (778) 432-3333 Nanaimo: (250) 729 2665

Skin Cancer

Ways you get it and how to catch it early

Almost everyone who has come into my office has had too much sun for one reason or another.

I had one patient come to see me and I was checking him over and he had a Basal Cell Skin Cancer in his under arm. I said to him “how did you get that there?!?” because normally it’s seen on the face or a sun exposed area.

We talked for a bit then he admitted he actually owned a tanning parlour for several years and he was tanning himself.

So we removed the Basal cell. A year passed, he came back with another lump – this time on his buttock. Again, not a normally sun exposed site, not unless you’re a Wreck Beach fan anyway….and that was a Squamous Cell cancer. So we cut that out.

Another year went by and I said to him after we cut the second one out “All you need now is a Melanoma and you’ve got a hat trick!” Well you know what happened, a year later he came in with a black patch on the side of his chest and it was a melanoma; but, because he’d been alerted to look out for the possibility of a mole cancer (a melanoma) he was able to spot it, come in and see me early, and if you remove a melanoma before it’s a millimetre deep into the skin you have a 95% cure rate – that’s a fabulous cure rate for a very aggressive cancer.

Melanoma is like lung cancer or breast cancer. The difference is breast cancer is usually the size of an olive before you know you’ve got it; lung cancer is often the size of an olive or a grape before you know you’ve got it, whereas with skin cancer you can spot it on the surface of the skin when it’s no thicker than a postage stamp.

Now, if that melanoma was allowed to get 4 millimetres into your skin your chances of survival are less than 50/50 so it’s a huge difference between 1 millimetre and 4 millimetres so whatever you do before you see a dermatologist check yourself over from head to toe because a melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin, even in places the sun don’t shine.

If you see anything that is brown or black that’s been changing recently get him to check it for you!

Melanoma is the most serious of the common skin cancers but the others can be very disfiguring because they’re nearly always on the face.

Basal cell skin cancer…I say to my patients is it’s a very low grade cancer and if you’re in the supermarket and the devil taps you on the shoulder and says “You’re gonna have cancer, choose a cancer quick” it’s the one to go for. It’s very slow growing, it virtually never spreads to lymph nodes or anything nasty like that BUT!! But… it can be very disfiguring. The old name for a Basal Cell Skin Cancer was the Rodent Ulcer because a hundred years ago when these things were neglected your face could wind up looking like a rat had gnawed away at it; not a very nice thought!

Even so, with modern techniques the marks and scarring from surgery can still be very disfiguring and I’ve seen grown men in tears when they’ve looked at their scars after surgery for Basal cell skin cancers. Fortunately I have lots of treatments in my office to help scars and the man who burst into tears like that is now a very happy, fully functional professional – happy dealing with his clients, and his scars are barely visible.

It took a year to sort that out afterwards; much better to have prevented the cancer in the first place by using sun screen, sun protection and sun avoidance, early detection so the surgery would be done early on while the lump was small and I mentioned elsewhere on this website Metvix Photodynamic Therapy. This is to get rid of the pre-cancers and superficial skin cancers that can lead on to Squamous cell and Basal cell & the Metvix you’ll read about elsewhere is very effective at skin cancer prevention.

To complete the triad of skin cancers, the Squamous cell cancer has to be mentioned; it’s more aggressive than Basal cell, it can metastasize… IE: spread through the body.

One of the worst sites to get squamous cell cancer is on your lip so if you ever get an ulcer on your lip that won’t go away, get it checked because it could be a skin cancer, so never take chances. If strange marks start appearing, or even if you’ve had them your whole life and aren’t sure, contact us to make an appointment.

Read more about skin cancer types, early detection and treatments here: