Surviving skin cancer: Peter Ross's story

7:43 PM, Jan 24, 2011   |    comments
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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Some of you may be planning a warm vacation to escape our cold West Michigan winter, but that doesn't mean you should skip the sunscreen.

WZZM 13'S Peter Ross learned the hard way that the longer you're exposed to the sun without protection, the greater your chances of developing skin cancer.

A recent survey found that nearly 60% of West Michigan residents don't use sunscreen, which puts them at a very high risk for skin cancer.

"The face is the most common place because it's an area that's never covered. It's always exposed to the sunlight when we're out," said Dr. John Miner, a dermatologist with Dermatology Associates of West Michigan in Grand Rapids.  "Once you've had one skin cancer, you have about a 40% chance of having another one."

Dr. Miner spends his day removing skin cancer lesions from his patients, including our own Peter Ross.

About a month ago, Peter noticed what he thought was just a pimple on the side of his nose until it nearly doubled in size in just a few weeks.

"Squamous cell, which is the kind that Peter has, which is the second most common kind of skin cancer and they can grow fairly rapidly," says Dr. Minor. "They can come on and grow in a couple of weeks to a pretty good size."

A biopsy confirmed it was cancer and during his examination another form of skin cancer, basal cell was found on his chest. Basal cell is the most common type of skin cancer affecting three million Americans every year.

Peter has both lesions removed through a procedure called Mohs. It's been around since the 1930's. A section of the skin is removed, frozen and then sliced in order to analyze how deep the cancer is. Dr. Miner says it's about 98% effective at removing it.

It takes 20 minutes for the test results, and Dr. Miner gives Peter some good news. They've removed all the cancer from his nose but there's also bad news. "And what did I say I promised you this one would be negative, but it's not. There's cancer right here," says Miner.

Unfortunately, the cancer on Peter's chest was deeper than originally thought so another layer of skin will have to be removed.

Dr. Miner says keeping an eye on unusual spots is the best way to catch skin cancer early. "The most critical thing that helps diagnose it is change. If you have a spot that's changing; it's getting bigger, it bleeds, it scabs, it crusts."

After three hours, Peter's skin cancer treatment is complete and he can go home, but not without a few scars to remind him how damaging the sun can be.

Dr. Miner says Peter has about a 50% chance of having another incidence of skin cancer. However, if he starts using sunscreen it will help to reduce those chances.

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