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Your Healthy Family: Some skin cancers begin in our youth

Posted at 6:51 AM, Jul 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-15 09:58:33-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — In this Your Healthy Family, in most of the sunscreen stories commonly done there is an emphasis on the importance of avoiding the dangers of sun burn, skin cancer, and the proper use of sunscreen.

In this story a Colorado Springs man, Vic McMillan who’s 79 years old - and tells me in jest that now he uses sun screen like after shave - was willing to share with me his ongoing battle with skin cancer, including some hard to see images of the nearly 50 surgeries he’s endured, on his neck and face. Being a retired Air Force man he says it’s a kind of shock and awe approach to the dangers of the sun, especially when we are young.

His dermatologist Dr. Brett Matheson with the Skin Cancer & Dermatology Center of Colorado Springs who has been treating Vic for twenty years, also walked me through the specialized surgery, called the Mohs micrographic technique that has minimized the effects of removing so many cancer lesions on the face and neck for Vic.

When I had the chance to visit with Vic, he made it very clear he has a healthy respect for cancer.

“Let me tell you how scared I am of cancer. My granddad died of cancer, my uncle and two uncles died with cancer, my wife died of cancer four years ago, cancer scares me. I’ve had prostate cancer as well so when I started this skin cancer thing it’s something I have to get out of my body. I have to get rid of it - there is no choice.”

For most of his adult life, Vic has been cautious with his sun exposure, wearing long sleeves or sunscreen in copious amounts. His current skin cancer battle was born in his youth.

“Most of my time in the sun was before I graduated college, and there was a lot of sun time. I was born and raised in Oklahoma, I went to high school in Denison Texas, and then we came back to Stillwater and I went to school at Oklahoma State. I’m fair skinned and I spent a lot of time in my youth in the sun trying to get a tan.”

Dr. Matheson says Vic represents a common group of people that he treats for skin cancer related issues later in their life. “Most of our patients are fair skinned people. Most have blue eyes and light skin color and they don’t tan well. In fact they burn easily and these are our patients who are prone to skin cancer. Vic McMillan is one of my frequent fliers as I call them. He’s had so many facial skin cancers. As (his) story demonstrates it’s the sun exposure early in life that can set you up for skin cancer decades later. You don’t see it in your childhood or even teenage years or young adulthood - but decades later.”

While the type of skin cancer Vic deals with, basal cell carcinoma isn’t generally considered deadly like melanoma, it’s still critical that it’s not ignored says Dr. Matheson. “Basal cell carcinoma doesn’t typically spread through the body. It's not a life-threatening cancer but it can be a very destructive cancer. It’s important to cure that cancer and get clear margins so that further destruction deep under the skin doesn’t occur.”

Dr. Matheson also says Vic is a model citizen when it comes to being a compliant and vigilant patient in terms of his own health. “He is right on top of it. He comes in regularly and we catch those cancers early and take care of them. Even though he’s been through multiple surgeries he’s healed beautifully.”

A big reason for that Dr. Matheson tells me it is the type of surgery Vic’s undergone. Dr. Matheson is the longest practicing board certified Mohs surgeon in Colorado Springs and in our next story he will explain the many benefits of Mohs surgery, its high cure rate and the minimal scaring it leaves.