How Not to Get Skin Cancer

Three dermatologists who’ve beaten the disease share their (sometimes unconventional) approaches to staying healthy and preventing recurrence

By Michele Bender
Photograph: Photo courtesy of Iphoto

How she prevents it now
Aggressively removing skin that may become cancerous is Karcher’s number-one priority.
• Regular self-exams Karcher gives herself the once-over at least twice a year. She tells her patients to come
in for a full-body check at least once a year. And they should make an appointment right away if they notice a spot that is new, asymmetrical, has uneven borders, has a strange or uneven coloration, grows in diameter or bleeds regularly.
• Light to medium peels every four to six weeks You won’t read this in medical textbooks, but Karcher has been doing salicylic and lactic acid peels on her face once a month for years and has never had an incidence of cancer there. While she says there is no data proving a connection, she believes peels may help the body shed precancerous lesions before they become a problem. The American Cancer Society does not take a position on face peels as a skin cancer–prevention tactic, so discuss with your doctor whether this procedure is right for you.
• Aldara—twice a year In another unorthodox move, Karcher applies Aldara Cream every six months on
her face and chest in an effort to prevent a recurrence—and she has not had one. She says the Aldara helps identify potentially problematic areas by turning them bright red. She then treats those spots for six weeks, as she did her BCCs. Karcher also uses this approach on higher-risk patients (those who’ve had extensive sun exposure or who’ve been previously diagnosed with skin cancer).

Vivian Bucay, MD, 48 
Medical and cosmetic derma­tologist, San Antonio; clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center
San Antonio, Texas

After three pregnancies (and C-sections), Vivian Bucay thought she knew her belly button inside and out—literally. So she wasn’t that concerned when she saw a dry, whitish discharge on a dark top she was wearing one day. “I didn’t have any pain, tenderness, bleeding or a dark mole that would suggest a can-cerous growth, so I thought it was just psoriasis or eczema,” Bucay says. But just to be on the safe side, she decided to have the area biopsied and was stunned when the pathol­ogist called her to say she had melanoma. The deadliest form of skin cancer in this country, melanoma claims the lives of 3,000 American women every year.

Weeks after the initial diagnosis, follow-up surgery revealed the cancer had also spread to nearby lymph nodes. “I was classified as a stage III cancer patient with a five-year survival rate of 50 percent,” says Bucay,
who then endured three months of high-dose interferon treatment while she waited to en­roll in a trial of
an experimental new melanoma-prevention drug.

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