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UC native urges: Heed early warning signs of basal cell carcinoma

UC native urges: Heed early warning signs of basal cell carcinoma

Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009 9:28 pm

UC native urges: Heed early warning signs of basal cell carcinoma | David Hamilton, skin cancer
When in doubt, check it out.

Union City native David Hamilton offered that advice while admitting he should have followed it himself.

Two years after noticing a spot on the side of his nose that would scab over and then go away, he finally went to a dermatologist to have it examined. The result: Basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, which affects about one million Americans each year. And, because he had ignored it for so long, it would require invasive surgery.

Hamilton, who is president and chief executive officer for the Dickson County Chamber of Commerce, hadn’t planned on getting the spot checked when he did.

“My wife, Barbara, told me for two years to get it checked,” he said. “And, of course, I blew her off, thinking she was making a mountain out of a molehill. About a month ago, she told me she wanted me to have it looked at and that she was going to call me every day until I made an appointment with a dermatologist. After two weeks of her calling or e-mailing me, I finally gave in and went to the doctor.

“It turns out — I hate to admit — she was right.”

So, instead of a tiny scar on his nose that likely would have been the result with early detection and removal, he said it appears now that he got in a hatchet fight and lost.

The scars have not gone unnoticed.

After being approached by several of his fellow members at the Dickson Rotary Club, he finally decided to stand up and tell the entire club of his experience.

“This is what happens if you ignore warning signs for two years,” he told them. “If I had had this checked out back then, there would probably be only a pin-hole sized scar. Unfortunately, I didn’t and this is what happened.”

Dr. Rogelio Escarcega, a general surgeon who serves on the active medical staff for Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union City, concurred.

“Basal cell carcinoma is very common. In fact, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t see a case,” he said, noting it occurs most commonly on areas exposed to the sun, like the face, shoulders, chest and scalp. “It is simple to take care of when you don’t ignore it; if you don’t, it can get out of hand.”

He offered an alphabetic approach of things to be on the lookout for, including:

• A — Asymmetry: You should notice the general look of your moles or growths, for example, if one-half of the mole or growth does not match the other half.

• B — Border Irregularity: Notice if the edges of the mole or growth are ragged, notched or blurred.

• C — Color: The pigmentation of the growth is not uniform. Shades of tan, brown and black are present. Dashes of red, white and blue add to the mottled appearance.

• D — Diameter: If the width is greater than 5 millimeters, it could be an indicator of an abnormal skin growth. Generally, any new mole growth should be a concern.

“If you watch for these things, you can find it early, when it’s small,” Escarcega said. “Then, you can eliminate it without any deformity.”

Prevention tips include avoiding the midday sun, using sunscreen year-round, wearing protective clothing, being aware of sun-sensitizing medications and performing regular skin checks.

While Hamilton said there have not been many “I told you so” moments from his wife, he said he has gotten plenty of advice from his doctor.

“He told me they got everything out they needed to; however, he told me I still need to wear a hat outdoors and avoid excessive sunlight,” he said, adding that he will need annual checkups. “And, surprisingly, the doctor said he expects most of the scars to disappear. After looking in the mirror, I’m not sure I believe that, but that’s what he said.”

He said he would heed the doctor’s advice and urged others to pay close attention as well.

“After going through this process, I would encourage everyone to have those little spots or moles looked at before they get out of hand,” said Hamilton, who is the son of the late Dale and Milton Hamilton Jr. “I wish now that I had had my nose looked at sooner because it probably would have been smaller and would not have required as much surgery. I hope my experience will encourage my friends and others to get their spots looked at.”

Published in The Messenger 4.17.09