There it was, still staring back from the mirror. That damnable red spot on the tip of my nose just wasn’t going away, despite weeks of hopes and salves.
To make matters worse, the thing seemed to be steadily enlarging each month. There was no pain, and the annoying little pest clearly wasn’t a pimple‚ not on me at 67 years old.
My doctor, Kristen Parke, had commented on the bump twice during recent visits.
“Hmmm. What’s that still festering on your nose?” she asked. “It looks like you might have a little cancer growing.”
Whoa, doc! That word alone was enough to shift me well back in my chair. And there went all my comfy denial. We’ve all heard the horror stories of melanoma being darned near a death sentence because it can spread to infest vital internal organs. And most of us tend to imagine the worst.
As it would turn out, mine was diagnosed as a basal cell carcinoma. Like so many others living beneath the enchantments of so much bright light, these scourges often develop from too much exposure to the sun.
Although this form of skin cancer doesn’t metastasize like melanoma, it does grow and dig into the tissues surrounding it, which often includes the ever conspicuous nose.
The basal cell diagnosis until recently meant a cure in the form of reconstructive surgery known as Mohs, which removes the affected area and covers up the hole with grafted skin that would hopefully regrow without much disfigurement.
Thankfully, I happened across an alternative that involved no invasive surgery, pain, bleeding or inconvenience and the overwhelming odds of a cure within weeks.
The skin-cancer-treatment gods had led me to David Wright, the only dermatologist in New Mexico with a cancer killing SRT-100 machine. The acronym stands for superficial radio therapy, much like low-dose X-Ray.
The cure meant I’d be spending 45 seconds twice each week for six weeks beneath this compact machine manufactured by Sensus Healthcare of Florida.
The portable device delivers bursts of lowenergy voltage with computerized precision onto the basal cell. A second cell was discovered growing on my back, which meant both cancers could be treated during each visit.
This treatment penetrates no deeper than 5 millimeters, or the surface layer of epidermis, using photons that make each developing cancer cell simply and safely slough away.
The radio therapy cure requires 13 treatments (two to three weekly). Medical researchers determined that’s the number required to erase every last cancer cell in its process of reproducing.
My treatments, overseen by a veteran radiology technician, went pretty much like this: “Lie on your back. You’ll feel a bit of pressure on your nose as I attach the proper setting to precisely focus the beam. I’m also laying a protective shield over your eyes. Hold very still for 45 seconds as I step out, and the doctor administers the treatment.” Whine. Whirrrrr. “All done.”
Wright says the SRT-100 technology has a cure rate higher than 95 percent.
“It’s not necessarily for everyone, but in a significant number of cases where sensitive areas, such as the face, are concerned, the treatment ensures there’s no disfigurement,” he says.
Since this technology was introduced in 2011, company officials say it’s treated more than 40,000 patients in 45 states. The global research and marketing firm Frost & Sullivan recently selected the SRT-100 as the best technological advancement of the year for its health care category. “I believe it represents the wave of the future in effectively treating the non-melanoma skin cancers,” says Wright. “And so far (after several months) I’ve had the success and results I expected.”
I was one of dozens of patients Wright has already has treated since acquiring the technology. My nose and back today are fully healed and covered with smooth new skin.
The bottom line: There’s fresh hope when faced with a basal or squamous cell diagnoses. The before-and-after photographs of my experience probably explain the story better even than all the words you’ve just read.
Mike Masterson lives in Santa Fe about six months of the year. He also writes columns in The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.