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No, I’m not talking about the movie, The Silence Of The Lambs, I’m talking about your skin health. Skin cancer is affecting people at an alarming rate and costing people thousands of dollars in treatment.
I started thinking about this topic when I was getting my regular three-month skin check at my dermatologist. Medical treatments are expensive, especially when a major treatment is required.
The reason I go every three months is due to my prior skin scares. I have had several chunks of skin taken out of my back due to abnormal cells that I’ll talk about later in this post.
When was the last time you went to a dermatologist to get a full body skin check?
Before I married my wife, I had never been to a dermatologist. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it was my life’s motto which also applied to my health.
Life Guards And Preventative Skin Care
Fortunately, my wife opened my eyes to the need for preventative skin care when it comes to your health. Preventative care can not only save your life, but it can also save you thousands of dollars in medical care costs.
My wife was a lifeguard when she was younger and they pounded skin health and protection into their heads. The lifeguards were required to wear sunblock, hats, glasses and sat under an umbrella during the hottest part of the day.
In addition to the preventative measures taken at the pool, my wife started the habit of going to a dermatologist for an annual skin check as a preventative measure. By paying a minimal amount for screening, she protected her body and addressed any questionable skin issues immediately.
What Is Skin Cancer?
Did you know that skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the United States? Most skin cancers are caused by your skin being damaged from sun exposure (ultraviolet rays) as well as the use of tanning beds. Here in Arizona, we are in a constant battle with the sun and there is a limitless supply of harmful rays.
Skin cancer begins as your skin cells start to multiply. This multiplication can create a visual abnormality even in the early stages. This early stage of skin cancer is easily detected and can be removed quickly without the need for extensive surgery. Unfortunately, if you don’t notice or ignore a change on your skin, skin cancer can begin to spread and grow.
Skin cancer has four (IV) stages, similar to other types of cancer, and becomes more dangerous as it progresses. As skin cancer progresses, it can spread deeper into the skin and ultimately to lymph nodes and other parts of the body.
Skin cancer is especially dangerous because it can go undetected depending on the area of the body it begins to grow. Having a full body skin check on a regular basis increases the chance of identifying any potential problem areas.
My Personal Skin Cancer Scare
After we married, my wife encouraged me to go to the dermatologist to get checked. I had my fair share of sunburns when I was a kid, but I didn’t see any need to go to the doctor.
After a couple of years of
nagging encouraging me to go to the doctor, I finally went. After my first visit, the dermatologist immediately noticed several spots on my back she was concerned about.
One process to test for skin cancer is to shave off a small piece of the affected area and send it to the lab for testing. Usually, within two weeks, the lab will confirm or deny the presence of cancerous cells. It was a painless process because the doctor used a topical numbing ointment before taking a sample.
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Skin Cancer Is No Joke
After taking a few samples, I was sent home. A few days later I received a call and was told I needed to make a follow-up appointment as soon as possible. The area that was biopsied was in the beginning stages of melanoma, which is the most fatal type of skin cancer.
The next week I went back and the dermatologist cut a large piece of skin out of my back that required internal and external stitches. They then sent the removed tissue to the lab to guarantee they had removed all of the cancerous cells.
I was lucky because the dermatologist was able to remove all of the cancerous cells before it moved to other parts of my body. Now I am left with an ugly scar on my back -but at least I’m still alive.
Since that time, I have had to go to the dermatologist every three months for regular check-ups. A few other small spots have been removed but it was a simple process because they were caught early on.
Most Common Ways To Treat Skin Cancer
The severity and progression of skin cancer will determine the type of treatment needed. Here is a list of the most common treatment methods:
Freezing The Cancer:
If you catch the development early on, the dermatologist can use liquid nitrogen to freeze the cells at the surface. This is a relatively painless process and will result in the cells falling off after they die.
Cutting The Cancer Out:
This was the process used for the spots on my back. The dermatologist injected a localized anesthetic in and around the growth area. When the area was completely numb, the spot was cut out with scalpels and other cutting tools. The depth and spread of the growth will determine if or how many stitches or other sealing methods are needed.
Using Radiation Therapy:
If the cancer can’t be completely removed through traditional surgery, your doctor may elect to use radiation to ensure all the harmful cells are destroyed.
Most everyone has heard of chemotherapy and the problems associated with it. Chemotherapy is the use of potent drugs to kill off the cancerous cells. There are many other problems with chemotherapy to include lowering your immune system and increased issues with healthy organs. Chemotherapy is usually saved as a last resort for the most invasive skin cancers that have spread to other parts of the body.
Current Skin Cancer Statistics
According to Skincancer.org, in the United States, more than two people die from skin cancer every hour. In addition, one in five people will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
Those are some scary statistics – but only if you ignore your skin.
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Also, men are more likely to develop melanoma skin cancer than women. Nearly double the number of men develop skin cancer than women. Perhaps this is because women are more willing to go to the doctor than men? The earlier you treat potential cancer, the more likely you will avoid a life-threatening diagnosis.
Tanning Beds Are Killers
Did you know that more people get skin cancer from using a tanning bed than people get lung cancer from smoking?!
Studies show that people who use a tanning bed before their 35th birthday increase their risk to develop the fatal form of skin cancer (melanoma) by 75%!
However, this isn’t necessarily a death sentence if you take preventative measures.
The Financial Cost Of Neglecting Your Skin
Because this is a financial blog, I couldn’t help but address the financial cost of treating skin cancer. In the event you waited too long to get a skin check and developed melanoma, not only will you have to deal with cancer treatment, but you may also have to deal with piling medical bills.
Skin Cancer Fees Quickly Add Up
As you can imagine, depending on the stage of skin cancer, it can become very expensive. Treatment can include:
- Hospital Stays
- Vast Array Of Medical Tests
- Cancer Treatment Medication
- Surgeon Fees
All of this depends on the type of health insurance you currently have and how much of your treatment it will cover.
According to Cost Helper Health, the average costs for skin cancer treatment can range from $1,732 for minor surgeries to $56,059 if you have stage IV melanoma.
Hopefully, you have money in your health savings account to cover your deductible. If your current medical plan does not have a deductible, you may have a significant amount of medical bills to pay off by the time you are cancer free.
Prevent Skin Cancer By Following These Steps
- Schedule an annual skin check with a dermatologist
- Conduct regular skin checks on your own for any abnormal spots
- Stay in the shade during the hottest parts of the day (10 AM – 4 PM)
- Use sunscreen any time you are going to be out in the sun for any length of time
- Avoid getting sunburned
- Wear a hat and sunglasses when you are out in the sun
- Do not use tanning beds – ever!
Getting that perfect tan is just not worth it. the earlier in your life you tan, the older and more damaged your skin will be. If you want to look like your 80 years old when you’re in your 40’s, tanning is certainly the way to do it.
If you really love that bronzed tanning look, consider getting a spray tan instead of exposing your skin to damaging ultraviolet rays.
And before you ask – no I have never used a spray tan – but I did use a tanning bed when I was in my 20s… SMH
How To Pay For Skin Cancer Treatment If You Don’t Have Health Insurance
If you find yourself needing treatment but don’t have health insurance, there are a few options available to you other than filing for bankruptcy.
There are many low-cost and/or free clinics throughout the United States that can help you treat your skin cancer.
Low Cost / Free Clinics:
- Needy Meds – Needy Meds helps people find medical care that can be heavily discounted or even free depending on your income.
- US Health Resources And Services Administration (HRSA) – The HRSA will connect you with a health center that provides care to millions of patients regardless of their ability to pay.
- The National Association Of Free And Charitable Clinics – As the name suggests, the NAFCC’s mission is to ensure that the medically underserved have access to affordable quality health care.
- Medical Assistance Tool – Created by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, this search tool is a dedicated search engine that allows users to search for financial assistance resources available to them, their loved ones or patients in their lives through the various biopharmaceutical industry programs available for patients who are eligible.
Financial Assistance For A Melanoma Diagnosis:
- The Assistance Fund – If you have a melanoma diagnosis, this fund can be used to help pay for medical costs associated with melanoma treatment.
Wrapping It All Up
First and foremost, if you haven’t been to a dermatologist in a while, or ever, it’s time to make an appointment for a screening – today. It’s not worth your life or your finances to neglect an inexpensive screening.
Preventative care is your best insurance and defense against any potential cancer or financial disaster in the future.
If you have a skin cancer diagnosis and are struggling with your finances, there are several funds and resources available to assist you to get the care you deserve.
Finally, if you know someone who could benefit from this information, please be sure to share this post!