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Actor Hugh Jackman’s recurring bouts with skin cancer have attracted attention to what national medical organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and the Skin Cancer Foundation say is already an epidemic. Jackman, best known as the star of the X-Men movie franchise, recently took to Twitter to encourage people to use sunscreen after undergoing treatment for the fifth case of skin cancer on his nose since 2013.
The type of skin cancer Jackman had is called basal cell carcinoma. It’s the most commonly diagnosed form of skin cancer, followed by squamous cell carcinoma. Both are rarely fatal, but they can be highly disfiguring and may spread if left untreated. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, but it makes up only about 5% of all skin cancer cases diagnosed annually.
All types of skin cancer are on the rise despite efforts to increase awareness about the importance of protecting skin from the sun. A 2015 study published in JAMA Dermatology estimated that more than 5 million skin cancers are treated yearly in the U.S. in approximately 3.3 million people. This number continues to rise, and each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
Dr. Brett Coldiron, founder of the The Skin Cancer Center in Cincinnati, told the Skin Cancer Foundation that be believes significant increases in the number of nonmelanoma skin cancer cases is due to a number of factors. For one thing, he says, the number of skin cancers reported is probably more accurate now than in the past.
He adds, “I think the increase is due to sun exposure, both incidental and intentional, and the growth of tanning parlors. Also, the baby boomer generation is aging, and most skin cancer patients are over 65.”
Baby boomers make up the largest part of our population. Not only are baby boomers living longer, but they are spending more of their life out in the sun.
Jackman, at 48, doesn’t quite fall into the baby boom demographic. But he underwent a treatment to remove a skin cancer tumor that is becoming increasingly familiar to aging patients, who make up the vast majority of individuals diagnosed with basal cell and squamous cell cancers. That treatment, Mohs micrographic surgery, is widely regarded as the most effective for nonmelanoma skin cancers.
Mohs surgery involves a meticulous process in which an extremely thin layer of tissue is removed by a surgeon, who then examines it under a microscope to determine whether any cancer cells remain. The process is repeated until all cancerous tissue is removed. The outpatient procedure may take several hours, but it has a cure rate of about 99% for patients diagnosed for the first time and up to 94% for recurrent tumors.
It’s also preferred for treating skin cancer in areas where the cosmetic outcome is important, such as the nose, lips, and other areas of the face, because Mohs spares more healthy tissue than other treatment methods. When the treatment is performed by an American College of Mohs Surgery member, Mohs surgery recovery is typically smooth.
“Because American College of Mohs Surgery (ACMS) members perform the procedure in an outpatient setting using only local anesthesia, immediate recovery generally involves little more than resting and simple wound care,” says the ACMS website. “Some patients may experience mild discomfort, bleeding, redness, or inflammation, but these are typically temporary and easily manageable.”
Specialists who belong to the ACMS complete rigorous post-residency fellowship training from highly qualified instructors. Completing the fellowship includes participating in at least 500 Mohs surgery cases and demonstrating an ability to accurately interpret slides of tissue samples removed during the procedures.
Treatment alternatives such as excising the tumor, radiation, or cryogenic surgery (freezing the tumor off) are still being used, but expect to learn more about Mohs surgery as its benefits become apparent to more celebrities and regular folks alike.
Bio: Emmy Owens is a health & beauty blogger who loves everything related to looking your best! She is a mother and wife who loves staying fit by chasing her young children. With age, she is not opposed to a cosmetic enhancement here or there, but the specifics remain in the vault.
This post is a result of collaborative efforts of mySkin and American College of Mohs Surgery (ACMS).