Using sunscreen easier than reliving trauma, skin cancer patient says

Dr. Ethan Philpott, MD, left, and Glori Traeder, CNP examine Karen Wolf after surgery was performed to remove basil skin cancer. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Jun. 18, 2013 2:21 pm Updated: Jul. 9, 2013 3:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Karen Wolf brushes a powdered sunscreen over her scarred nose at least four times a day.

The slightly raised tissue heals where a cancerous basal cell once grew. She speculates years of playing softball in the sun caused the cancer to form.

Wolf always wore sunscreen, but she rarely applied it more than once. Now she puts it on first thing in the morning and multiple times throughout the day. Whether rain, sunshine or indoors, guarding her skin is easier than reliving the trauma of skin cancer.

"I want it to be done," Wolf said. "I don't want it to come back. There's always that fear of recurrence after you've had it."

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most cases are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, which are highly curable. Wolf expected the doctors to remove a tumor the size of a sunflower seed kernel and return to her normal life the next day. However, the small dot above the surface concealed a larger, more damaging mass beneath her skin.

After the unexpectedly large growth was removed in Dr. Linda Cooke's office at Riverside Dermatology in Hannibal, Mo., Wolf was referred to Dr. Ethan Philpott, a plastic surgeon at Quincy Medical Group. He removed skin from her forehead and cartilage from her ear to rebuild her nose. Three reconstructive surgeries later, few other than Wolf would notice any difference.

"I don't see myself," Wolf said. "My nose isn't healed yet."

Glori Traeder, a certified nurse practitioner in the plastic and reconstructive surgery department at Quincy Medical Group, said these reconstructive surgeries often take an emotional and physical toll on a patient. While her career centers on helping cancer patients regain their appearance, she'd rather prevent skin damage. Traeder said cases of melanoma, the most deadly skin cancer, have increased among women in their late teens and early 20s. She said this high-risk age group is more apt to spend time in tanning beds or unprotected in direct sunlight.

"It's a time for riskier behavior and not worrying about the consequences," Traeder said. "It's unfortunate, because that's how a lot of times the melanoma develops."

More than 61,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with melanoma in 2009, and nearly 9,200 died from the disease, according to the CDC.

Wolf's story has encouraged her children and friends to embrace skin care. Her 12-year-old daughter uses a powdered sunscreen as her makeup. Her two sons are frequently outdoors and regularly use sunscreen.

Several of Wolf's friends have had their own suspicious spots checked. She said a few have tested positive for skin cancer.

"If something looks like a sore or an enlargement that changes shape and changed color and flakes, it should be checked out," Traeder said.

Traeder recommends buying multiple types of sunscreens and storing them in easily accessible places. She uses two ounces of sunscreen lotion as moisturizer each morning and keeps a tube of powdered sunscreen with her at all times. She asks her patients to tuck bottles in their glove box, tackle box, purse or desk at work.

"Get some type that you can be successful with no matter what your line of work, your profession or your gender," Traeder said.