Hugh Jackman Has Skin Cancer

He may play the invincible Wolverine on the big screen, but in real life, 45-year-old Hugh Jackman is subject to all the same, common maladies as the rest of us.

Today Jackman announced to his Instagram followers that he had to have a basal cell carcinoma removed from his nose:

“Deb [his wife] said to get the mark on my nose checked. Boy, was she right! I had a basil cell carcinoma. Please don’t be foolish like me. Get yourself checked. And USE sunscreen!!!”

What is basal cell carcinoma?

skin-revisedFirst, a little background information about the structure of skin.

Skin has two main layers:

  • Epidermis: The epidermis is the top layer of the skin. It is mostly made of flat cells called squamous cells. Under the squamous cells in the deepest part of the epidermis are round cells called basal cells. Cells called melanocytes make the pigment (color) found in skin and are located in the lower part of the epidermis
  • Dermis: The dermis lies under the epidermis and contains blood vessels, lymph vessels, and glands. Some of these glands make sweat, which helps cool the body. Other glands make sebum,  an oily substance that helps keep the skin from drying out. Sweat and sebum reach the surface of the skin through tiny openings called pores.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer, affecting approximately one million Americans each year. In fact, it is the most common of all cancers. More than one out of every three new cancers are skin cancers, and the vast majority are basal cell carcinomas.

Basal cell carcinoma starts in the epidermis. It grows slowly and is painless.  The majority of these cancers occur on areas of skin that are regularly exposed to sunlight or other ultraviolet radiation. UV radiation comes from the sun, sunlamps, tanning beds, or tanning booths. A person’s risk of skin cancer is related to lifetime exposure to UV radiation.  Basal cell skin cancer used to be more common in people over age 40, but is now often diagnosed in younger people, and the sun can damage the skin from an early age.

The risk for basal cell skin cancer is higher if you have fair skin, blue or green eyes, blond or red hair, or a history of overexposure to x-rays or other forms of radiation.  Basal cell carcinoma occurs most commonly on parts of the body exposed to the sun- especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back.

Basal cell skin cancer almost never spreads to distant sites. But, if left untreated, it may grow into surrounding areas and nearby tissues and bone.

A change on the skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This may be a new growth, a sore that doesn’t heal, or a change in an old growth. Not all skin cancers look the same. Usually, skin cancer is not painful.

Common symptoms of basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer include:

basal cell carcinomas

How is basal cell carcinoma treated?

Treatment depends on the size, depth, and location of the skin cancer, as well as  your overall health.

Treatment may involve:

  • Excision: Cutting out the skin cancer and stitching the skin together
  • Curettage and electrodesiccation: Scraping away cancer cells and using electricity to kill any that remain
  • Cryosurgery: Freezing the cancer cells, which kills them
  • Medication: Skin creams containing imiquimod or 5-fluorouracil for superficial (not very deep) basal cell cancer
  • Mohs surgery: Removing a layer of skin and looking at it immediately under a microscope, then removing many layers of skin until there are no signs of the cancer; usually used for skin cancers on the nose, ears, and other areas of the face.
  • Photodynamic therapy: Treatment using light

How can you prevent skin cancer?

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to reduce your exposure to sunlight. Ultraviolet light is most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so try to avoid sun exposure during these hours. Protect the skin by wearing hats, long-sleeved shirts, long skirts, or pants.

Always use sunscreen:

  •  Apply high-quality sunscreens with sun protection factor (SPF) ratings of at least 15, even when you are only going outdoors for a short time.
  •   Apply a large amount of sunscreen on all exposed areas, including ears and feet.
  •   Look for sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB light.
  •   Use a waterproof formula.
  •   Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply it frequently, especially after swimming.
  •   Use sunscreen in winter, too. Protect yourself even on cloudy days.

Other important facts to help you avoid too much sun exposure:

  •  Avoid surfaces that reflect light more, such as water, sand, concrete, and white-painted areas.
  •   The dangers are greater closer to the start of summer.
  •   Skin burns faster at higher altitudes.
  •   Avoid sun lamps, tanning beds, and tanning salons.

Examine the skin regularly for unusual growths or skin changes.

For more information, click here to go the Resounding Health Casebook on the topic.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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