Don’t ignore the signs of skin cancer. Here’s what you need to know

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Left: Stacy Schmidt after Mohs has surgery on her nose. Right: Schmidt after her nose was healed from Mohs’ surgery. | Courtesy Stacy Schmidt

Pocatello – When Pocatello local Stacey Schmidt noticed a “scaly patch” on her nose, she thought nothing of it. But years later, she received a medical diagnosis that changed her life.

Schmidt, 48, said she noticed the spot on her nose in 2018. She remembers it tingling sometimes and she’d itch. She eventually met Dr. Earl Stoddard, M.D., a Mohs fellow-certified dermatologist, which means he uses a microsurgical technique to treat skin cancer, at the Idaho Skin Institute in Chubbock. He is also an employee of the Portnov Medical Center.

Stoddard told Schmidt that it was likely cancerous and prescribed her an ointment to apply to the affected area. In 2021 I noticed the patch coming back, so I looked at it again. That’s when she learned she had basal cell carcinoma. She underwent Mohs’ operation, in which thin layers of cancer-containing skin are removed and examined until only cancer-free tissue remains, in February 2022.

“They cut the lesion. (The lesion) was probably the size of my pinky fingernail, but it cut, it looked like a thunderbolt,…maybe 5mm by 5mm…that way he could sew it together and make it look not wrinkled,” Schmidt said. “It’s amazing how well it healed.”

There are a variety of different types of skin cancers, but Stoddard said three primary types are responsible for more than 98% of all skin cancers. He said the most common skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma – it alone is responsible for more than 80% of all skin cancers – followed by squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, which is the most dangerous type of skin cancer.

“I think it’s very common for people to think, ‘If I don’t admit it, it doesn’t exist. “

In general, Stoddard said, people who have a combination of fair skin, blue eyes and freckles, who live in areas where they get a lot of sun, and who are older are more likely to get skin cancer.

“Skin cancer is one of those things where it doesn’t usually arise from a single event in which you’ve been exposed to a lot of sunlight,” Stoddard said. “The longer you live and the more exposure your skin is to, the more damage the sun does and the greater your likelihood of developing skin cancer over time that 1 in 5 Americans — and this includes all races and skin types — will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.”

Dr. Earl Stoddard

Earl Stoddard, MD, a dermatologist and a Mohs-M.N.S. Surgeon at the Idaho Skin Institute in Chopok. | Courtesy of the Idaho Skin Institute

Stoddard recommends that people apply an SPF of 50 or more for about 10 minutes before going outside and then reapply every 80 minutes, as well as wearing protective long-sleeved swim shirts when going swimming. If the person will be working outside, he suggests wearing a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and even gloves.

“When your skin begins to burn from the sun, the blood flow to your skin increases dramatically, and you feel warmth from the burning and increased blood flow,” he said. “If you shade your skin all day, you won’t get that effect.”

Heliocare is also a supplement available for purchase online that helps make a person less sensitive to the sun, according to Stoddard.

“It doesn’t replace sunscreen, but it’s a good help, and it’s safe for all ages,” he noted. And vitamin B3, 500 milligrams twice a day, can help reduce incidences of precancerous skin lesions and cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas.

Although there are steps anyone can take to try to avoid developing skin cancer, Stoddard and Schmidt encourage people not to wait too long to see a doctor if they suspect something is wrong.

“I think it’s very common for people to think, ‘If I don’t admit it, it’s not there,'” Schmidt said. “Burying your head in the sand is not a very good idea because these things keep growing.”

Stoddard added: “If you have a mole that you worry about or are concerned about that you think is changing either in appearance – it’s getting darker, bigger, or discolored – or in symptoms, it’s itchy, burning, it stings, it bleeds – you don’t want Ignore it. You want to come and check it out.”

The Idaho Skin Institute has clinics in Pocatello, Rexburg, Twin Falls, and Burley. Stoddard said the Pocatello clinic offers free skin cancer screenings on the first Tuesday of every month at 5 p.m.

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