Skin cancer not a laughing matter
by Jack Mcneely
Oct 21, 2012 | 1266 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jack Mcneely
Jack Mcneely
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“Say hello to my little friend.”

My then 10-year-old daughter borrowed this famous line from Al Pacino’s character Tony Montana in the 1983 blockbuster film, Scarface. She made this quip after I removed a sterile bandage from my right cheek that revealed 55 stitches. A Kentucky dermatologist had just extracted a silver dollar-sized tumor.

I could not help but laugh when she quoted the famous line after I went under the knife for the first time in 2006.

After a second round with a scalpel-wielding dermatologist here in Jasper, I am no longer laughing. Dr. John Donahue carefully carved out a second, quarter-sized basal cell carcinoma from beneath my left cheek last week.

Albeit a smaller, two-inch incision that required only a few internal sutures and eight external stitches, the three-hour experience was enough to get me to put pen to paper and urge all to take preventive measures to avoid the risk of skin cancer.

Even though both skin cancers were slow-growing, if left alone they had the potential to turn life threatening.

My mother gave me my fair complexion. I remember several bouts with sun poisoning and severe sunburns when I was young. For the past 10 years I have taken more care to apply appropriate sunscreen. But I realize most of the damage was done at an early age.

So now I face additional trips to the dermatologist. I expect more procedures to remove more damaged skin.

My story is one shared by millions across the country. Following are some facts about skin cancer:

• More than 3.5 million skin cancers in more than 2 million people are diagnosed in the U.S. annually. It is estimated that there will be 131,810 new cases of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, in 2012.

• Current estimates are that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

• By 2015, it is estimated that 1 in 50 Americans will develop melanoma in their lifetime.

• Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are the two most common forms of skin cancer, but are easily treated if detected early. Both have cure rates approaching 95 percent if detected early and treated promptly.

• The five-year survival rate for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 98 percent.

• Five-year survival rates for regional and distant stage melanomas are 62 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

• About 75 percent of skin cancer deaths are from melanoma.

• On average, one American dies from melanoma every hour. This year it is estimated that 9,180 deaths would be attributed to melanoma.

• An estimated 3,010 deaths from other skin cancers will occur in the U.S. this year.

• The World Health Organization estimates that more than 65,000 people a year worldwide die from melanoma.

Skin cancer was the furthest thing from my mind when I was young. Today, I urge young and old alike to use common sense when it comes exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Of course, if you enjoy multiple numbing shots, the pressure and sound of a scalpel slicing through your skin, and perhaps my favorite, the pungent aroma of burning skin from the cauterization process, then do not protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays.

Jack McNeely is Publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle and can be contacted by phone at 205-221-2840 or via email at jack.mcneely@mountaineagle.com.