Joe Borter spent much of his childhood in the sun, playing baseball, swimming and even lifeguarding. As an adult, he still enjoys the outdoors, but he now wears protective clothing and seeks shade whenever possible. But the damage caused by exposure to the sun in his youth has caught up with him. Fair-skinned and prone to freckling, Joe has had many procedures to remove squamous and basal cell carcinomas.
"Any bit of sunburn I get leads to skin cancer," the Homewood resident said.
Still, when a recent biopsy result came back with a melanoma diagnosis, the deadliest form of skin cancer, he was surprised. "It initially looked so much different than the rest of the skin cancers I've had," Joe said. In fact, the spot Joe found on his right arm did not look like a typical melanoma at all.
"Most melanomas are dark, and Joe's was what we call an amelanotic melanoma, where the lesion or patch can be pink, red or almost a light skin color," said May Chow, MD, FAAD, a Specialty Physicians of Illinois, LLC, board-certified dermatologist and a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology who chooses to practice at Franciscan Health. "A person can easily mistake this for a rash and treat it with a cream."
Upon receiving Joe's initial biopsy results, Dr. Chow immediately called him back for a complete excision. Fortunately, the cancer had been discovered early enough that she was able to remove it entirely during that procedure.
"I sent the specimen to the laboratory for special genetic testing to learn how likely it may recur," Dr. Chow said. "The prognosis was good, that it has a low probability to come back."
Joe estimates he has about one procedure a year to remove either a basal or squamous cell carcinoma. To stay on top of the situation, he sees his dermatologist every three to four months, and is on a maintenance program of topical anticancer medication at home.
"Basal and squamous carcinomas frequently develop in people who have fair skin, like Joe," said Dr. Chow.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and squamous cell is the second most common. Melanoma is less frequent, but far more dangerous. The inconvenience of constant skin examination, frequent doctor appointments and undergoing almost yearly procedures can be burdensome. Through it all, he's grateful for Dr. Chow. "Dr. Chow and her supportive staff are fantastic," Joe said. "It's very comforting to have a doctor like her."