COLUMBUS, Ga. — Something you’re exposed to almost everyday of your life could be taking its toll on your skin. And unless you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer, you probably don’t give the sun’s rays a second thought. Perhaps you should. This story is not about the health risks of using a tanning bed. It’s about making you aware that your exposure to the sun in your younger years can come back to haunt you when you get older.
Kim Ennis is a first grade teacher at Britt David Magnet Academy in Columbus. And she’s well schooled in the treatment of skin cancer. She’s been coming to Dermatologist Nicole Fussell for two years.
“I had been contemplating going for a couple of months, and really in denial for probably a couple of years prior to that,” says Kim Ennis.
“Ms. Ennis has been through a lot. When she came in, she was one of those patients that you could tell she knew something was wrong,” says Dr. Nicole Fussell.
“From the first visit I found out that I had basal cell carcinoma and I also had squamous cell,” says Kim.
Those are the two most common forms of skin cancer, over the last two years Kim has been biopsied 30 to 40 times. And she’s also been diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
“It was located on the bend of my right arm in the forearm. It was a mole that had been that color probably for a year. It had gotten a little darker,” says Kim.
Kim had surgery to remove the melanoma. But it’s the basal cell carcinoma that’s her biggest enemy. It has metastasized to her bones.
“I am taking medicine now that is the Jimmy Carter drug, and so far I’m believing that it’s successful. Very few side effects,” says Kim.
So what could have led to Kim getting skin cancer?
“A majority of the time people have had a significant amount of sun exposure in their younger years, and it’s not until they are much, much older that we’ll see those changes, or that those cells will mutate and turn into the cancerous type cells,” says Dr. Fussell.
“As I was growing up I didn’t wear sunscreen. If I did it was Coppertone or something with #8 in it, SPF-8 and just kind of let it go,” says Kim. “As I grew up I do remember getting blistered here and there.”
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, if you have five or more blistering sunburns between 15 and 20 years old, it increases your risks of getting melanoma by 80 percent and other types of skin cancers by 68 percent. People 65 and older may experience melanoma more frequently because of the UV exposure they’ve received over the course of their lives.
“Even if you did have blistering sunburns, or you did go to the tanning bed, or you did not wear your sun block, or if you worked in construction, or you’re a farmer or whatever, it’s never too late to start protecting your skin. And I think that’s the most important thing,” says Dr. Fussell.
Doctor Fussell recommends that you use an SPF 30 sunscreen, preferably with titanium and zinc which provides better protection against the sun’s UV rays.
“Sun blocks are a lot nicer to wear than they used to be. There’s a lot of cool, sun protective clothing that you can buy now that makes that protection easier. And it just kind of needs to be part of your daily routine. You wake up, you brush your teeth, you should put your sunscreen on,” says Dr. Fussell.
Kim says now she wears sunscreen everyday and she’d like to see everyone get a base line screening for skin issues just like you go for a physical.
“I just think it would be best for a dermatologist to give you a complete check head to toe to see what they might see. It would take a lot of pain away down the road to know what you’re dealing with,” says Kim.
This story has hit close to home for Phil Scoggins. Last fall he had a small spot on his forehead that would not stop bleeding.
It was about the size of a pencil eraser. He went to see Dr. Fussell. It was biopsied and diagnosed as a basal cell skin cancer. He had it surgically removed over Christmas. Once they got under the skin, the cancer was about the size of a nickel. The incision left a two-inch scar. It has now been just over a month since the surgery and the scar is hardly noticeable.
Phil spent a lot of time at the pool when he was a kid. He had several bad sunburns. Doctor Fussell said the skin cancers showing up now can be traced back to all that exposure to the sun in his younger years.