I never imagined I would have anything to thank the Kardashians for, but I’m prepared to admit that I was wrong.
Khloe Kardashian’s recent shock revelation about her surgery to remove a melanoma from her left cheek exposed a very large audience to the sobering truth that skin cancer can strike even young, healthy, rich, beautiful people. It also acts as a timely reminder that we all need to be more vigilant about protecting our skin.
Skin cancer is the most common human malignancy, with one in five UK adults predicted to be affected within their lifetime. According to Cancer Research UK, the annual number of those diagnosed with melanoma (the deadliest form) has hit an all time high of 17,500, which is predicted to double over the next 20 years.
Why, you ask? It’s a perfect storm of an ageing, predominantly white population combined with the Brits’ penchant for holidays in the sun and a relaxed attitude to UV protection. There’s also a link with compromised immunity. Patients on medication to prevent transplanted organ rejection, for example, are at higher risk; and there may also be a nutritional element, since vitamin B3 supplementation appears to be protective against the non-melanoma skin cancers.
Sun-exposed skin on the face, neck, décolletage and for men, tops of ears and scalp, are particularly common sites. I expect that the vogue for young men to shave their heads will contribute to a future glut of cases in the future and perhaps see the return of the comb-over, both highly undesirable prospects.
Skin cancers are painless but grow over a number of months. In most cases they are managed, as was the case for Khloe Kardashian, by surgical removal, usually under local anaesthetic. The tissue removed extends beyond the visible tumour to clear microscopic root extensions and prevent regrowth. This is important, as recurrences tend to behave more aggressively and are more challenging to clear on subsequent attempts. In the case of melanoma, additional investigations, such as lymph node biopsy and MRI scanning may be needed if there is concern about possible metastasis (spread beyond the primary lesion).
As you can imagine, facial surgery is a scary prospect and not just because of the diagnosis. The plastic surgery needed to reconstruct an eyelid (my specialist area) must ensure that the eye is protected, whilst also achieving a good cosmetic result. My patients are often just as concerned about how they will look afterwards as they are about being cured. It’s not vanity; visible scarring and facial asymmetry can be life-changing due to high rates of depression and social anxiety.
The nose, ears and scalp also require highly specialised reconstructive techniques. This is where my Consultant Maxillofacial Surgeon colleagues, Mr Eoin Twohig and Mr James Gallagher excel. Fellow members of the Worcestershire Skin Cancer Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) alongside Dermatologists, Pathologists, Oncologists (cancer specialists) and Clinical Nurse Specialists, we manage skin cancer patients in both the NHS and private sectors. Teams like ours are replicated throughout the UK to ensure patients receive high standards of care.
So if you notice a change in your skin, a new nodule, ulceration or change in an existing mole, it’s worth getting it checked out. Your GP will be able to advise and if there is any suspicion about the nature of your lesion, you will be referred for removal and biopsy. Benign lumps such as skin tags, warts and moles aren’t currently eligible for NHS treatment, but if you want rid there are private clinics who can help. You should look for CQC registered services who also offer histology (analysis and diagnosis of the lump by a pathologist) and you can usually self-refer.
To find out more or to book an appointment with Dr Julia Sen, Mr James Gallagher or Mr Eoin Twohig at Dr Julia Sen Health & Wellness Clinic: email email@example.com or phone 07939 286850.