Treating and educating patients about the dangers of melanoma is some of the most important work we perform at our Wilsonville dermatology clinic. Perhaps it’s the cloudy skies we typically enjoy here in the Pacific Northwest or the long months of rain that encourage us to revel outside when the sun shines, but Oregon has the fifth highest melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer- rate in the country.
Each year roughly 2,200 Oregonians receive a melanoma diagnosis. And every year roughly 150 Oregonians will die from the disease.
If left untreated, melanoma will spread and become lethal. Fortunately, when caught early, melanoma has one of the highest survival rates of any form of cancer. The ability to successfully treat and remove cancerous melanoma growths is due largely to advances such as Mohs surgery.
A highly exact surgical technique used to treat skin cancer, Mohs surgery involves the removal of thin layers of malignant skin that are progressively removed and examined until only healthy, cancer-free skin tissue remains.
Mohs surgery is unique in that it blends pathology with surgery into one lifesaving procedure. As the cancerous skin cells are removed, the surgeon examines skin tissue samples for cancer cells, and then returns to the patient for another sample. This process is repeated until the skin tissue samples taken from the patient are entirely free of cancerous cells. This allows the surgeon the ability to completely remove the cancerous cells while doing minimal damage to the skin.
Recently, our own Dr. Sam Bremmer discussed the importance of Mohs surgery and how it can help save lives in an article with the Wilsonville Spokesman.
Successful Treatment is Key
While Mohs surgery is primarily used to safely treat early stage melanoma, the surgery can also be used to help treat the two most common forms of skin cancer: squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas. Even though both of forms of the disease can be deadly if allowed to spread, neither pose the same kind of immediate danger as melanoma.
Since cancerous cells often touch with healthy cells, there is always some infected cells that linger on the edges of healthy skin. With a traditional biopsy and removal, there’s always a chance that some cancerous cells could remain in the skin that surrounds the tissue that was removed. Conversely, too much skin can also be removed when performing a biopsy, resulting in the loss of healthy skin.
During a Mohs procedure, Dr. Bremmer will remove small amounts of skin tissue that he will then test. If the tests still show the presence of cancerous cells, more tissue will be removed. If the tests show only healthy skin remains, the wound will be treated and closed. This allow Dr. Bremmer to minimize scarring while providing patients with the highest possible cure rate.
“Since we can do it all in one day, we can do more complicated repairs that end up looking better,” said Dr. Bremmer in the Spokesman article. “Because once you get to the sewing, you already know that the cancer is out.”
At Our Wilsonville Dermatology Clinic, Patient Education is Key
Considering the high prevalence of oral cancer in Oregon, Dr. Bremmer and the rest of our team will continue to help patients overcome this potentially devastating disease.
“Oregon is one of the top states in the country for skin cancers. It truly is an epidemic here,” said Dr. Preston Chadwick, another member of our Wilsonville dermatology clinic to the Spokesman. “Often when I diagnose skin cancer, the patient has come in for something else. So routine exams to help find, diagnose, and educate patients on what to look for (are) critically important here in Oregon.”
Unlike other forms of cancer that typically develop later in life, skin cancer doesn’t just impact the lives of seniors and the elderly. This makes regular screenings and patient awareness a key component in helping patients overcome skin cancer.
“It’s less about age and more if something seems not quite right to somebody then they should come to get it checked out,” said Dr. Bremmer. “In younger women, around 20s to 40s, melanoma is the cancer most likely to cause their death. So it’s reasonable to get looked at even when you’re younger.”
Time spent outdoors without sunscreen certainly increases an individual’s risk of developing skin cancer, but a major risk factor that’s easily avoidable is the use of tanning beds.
“Tanning beds certainly cause a problem,” says Dr. Bremmer. “I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations on it and about 1 in 1,000 people who tan, ever, will die from melanoma as a result of tanning; and more like 1 in 200 will get a melanoma from tanning.”
Fortunately, thanks to advances like Morhs surgery and health professionals like Dr. Bremmer, patients can overcome a skin cancer diagnoses when caught early. If you have noticed anything unusual with your skin or simply feel as if something isn’t right, we encourage you to schedule a skin cancer screening with Dr. Bremmer of any dermatologist at our Wilsonville dermatology clinic.
A little prevention could be lifesaving.