Don’t ignore the signs of skin cancer. Here’s what you need to know
POCATELLO — When Pocatello local Stacy Schmidt noticed a “scaly patch” on her nose, she didn’t think anything 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 sometimes stinging and she would scratch at it. She eventually met with Dr. Earl Stoddard, a dermatologist and fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon, which means he uses a precise surgical technique to treat skin cancer, at the Idaho Skin Institute in Chubbuck. He is also on the Portneuf Medical Center staff.
Stoddard told Schmidt it was likely precancerous and he prescribed an ointment for her to apply to the affected area. In 2021, she noticed the patch coming back, so she had it looked at again. That’s when she learned she had developed basal cell carcinoma. She underwent the Mohs procedure, where thin layers of cancer-containing skin are removed and examined until only cancer-free tissue remains, in February 2022.
“They cut out the lesion. (The lesion) was probably the size of my pinky nail, but he cut, it looked like a lightning bolt … probably 5 millimeters by 5 millimeters … so that way he could stitch it together and have it look not puckered,” Schmidt said. “It’s amazing how well it’s healed.”
There are a variety of different types of skin cancers, but Stoddard said three principle types account for more than 98% of all skin cancers. He said the most common skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma — it alone is responsible for over 80% of all skin cancers — followed by squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.
“I think it’s a pretty common thing for people to think, ‘If I don’t acknowledge it, it’s not there.'”
Generally speaking, Stoddard said people who have a combination of fair skin, blue eyes and freckles who live at areas where they receive a lot of sun exposure, and people who are older are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer.
“Skin cancer is one of those things where it typically doesn’t arise from one event where you sustained a lot of sun exposure,” Stoddard said. “The longer you live and the more your skin’s exposed, the more damage is done by the sun and the more likely you are to develop skin cancer over time to the point where 1 out of 5 Americans — this is including all ethnicities and skin types — will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.”
Stoddard recommends people apply sunscreen with SPF 50 or greater about 10 minutes before going outside then reapplying it every 80 minutes, plus wearing long-sleeve protective swim shirts if going swimming. If a person is going to be working outside, he suggests wearing a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and even gloves.
“When your skin starts to get burned from the sun, you get a lot of increased blood flow to your skin, and you feel warmer from the burn and the increased blood flow,” he said. “If you’re shading your skin all day, you don’t get that effect.”
Heliocare is also a supplement that’s available to buy online that helps make a person less sensitive to the sun, according to Stoddard.
“It doesn’t replace sunblock, but it’s a nice help, and it’s safe for all ages,” he pointed out. “And vitamin B3, 500 milligrams twice a day, can help decrease the incidents of precancerous skin lesions and squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer.”
Although there are steps a person can take in an effort to avoid getting skin cancer, Stoddard and Schmidt encourage people not to wait too long to see a doctor if you suspect something isn’t right.
“I think it’s a pretty common thing for people to think, ‘If I don’t acknowledge 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 are worried about or concerned about that you think is changing either in appearance — it’s getting darker, larger, changing colors — or in symptoms, it itches, it burns, it stings, it’s bleeding — you don’t want to ignore that. You want to come and have that checked.”
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.