Radiation Therapist Madey Appleseth demonstrates how to use ultrasound technology to evaluate the depth of a mole on her arm on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. This technology is also used to evaluate on potential skin cancer on patients. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Radiation Therapist Madey Appleseth demonstrates how to use ultrasound technology to evaluate the depth of a mole on her arm on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. This technology is also used to evaluate on potential skin cancer on patients. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Mill Creek clinic can now cure some skin cancers without surgery

Frontier Dermatology is the first clinic in the state to offer radiation therapy for nonmelanoma cancer.

MILL CREEK — Last October, Cheryl Cayford was distraught when she found out the scab on her nose was skin cancer.

She already had a tumor removed from her arm, and the scar to prove it.

Skin cancer is more common than all other types of cancer combined — 1 in 5 Americans will develop the disease by age 70, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Melanoma is the deadliest form, but only makes up about 1% of cases. Every year, about 3.3 million Americans are diagnosed with the more common types of skin cancer, broadly called nonmelanoma.

Cayford had undergone Mohs micrographic surgery, the most common method to remove skin cancer, at Frontier Dermatology in Mill Creek. The surgery has a 99% cure rate, but can leave lifelong scarring.

Cayford didn’t want that for her nose. She was adopted, so when she had children of her own, it was the first time she saw her physical traits in someone else. Her daughter had her nose. She didn’t want to lose that bond.

“When they indicated I had another option, it was a no-brainer,” she said.

Dermatology patient Sheryl Cayford speaks about her experience with GentleCure on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Dermatology patient Sheryl Cayford speaks about her experience with GentleCure on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Frontier Dermatology is the first clinic in Washington to offer Image-Guided Superficial Radiation Therapy, or IG-SRT, the most advanced treatment for nonmelanoma without surgery. The technology comes from skin cancer treatment company SkinCure Oncology. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the treatment and it has a 99.3% cure rate, according to a study published in the medical journal Oncology and Therapy in 2021.

“We’re very proud and excited to announce the addition of a nonsurgical option for treating the most common types of skin cancer, namely basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers,” Dieter Schmidt, a physician at the Mill Creek clinic, said Wednesday.

The procedure is painless and only lasts a few minutes. And it’s covered by most insurance plans.

Inside a doctors room with the equipment used for the new nonsurgical treatment for nonmelanoma skin cancer on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Inside a doctors room with the equipment used for the new nonsurgical treatment for nonmelanoma skin cancer on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Washingtonians may be surprised to learn their state has a higher melanoma rate than California, Florida and Texas. And Snohomish County is a known melanoma hot spot, with an average case rate higher than the state level. From 2016 to 2018, the state’s cancer registry reported about 1,700 new melanoma cases and 66 deaths in the county.

This is partly because when the sun finally comes out in Washington, people “fry themselves,” Schmidt said. The primary cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet radiation from the sun and indoor tanning. Using a tanning bed increases the risk of skin cancer up to 83%. More people get skin cancer from tanning beds than get lung cancer from smoking, according to one study published in the National Library of Medicine in 2016.

But nonmelamona skin cancer diagnoses, although most common, are not required reporting for national and state cancer registries. SkinCure Oncology created an algorithm based on the estimated 3.3 million diagnoses each year, said Bill Sklar, spokesperson for the company. It considers age, skin color and other risk factors to make predictions at the state and county level.

The algorithm predicts more than 68,000 Washington residents, including 7,000 in Snohomish County, will be diagnosed with nonmelanoma this year. And though nonmelanoma cases are less deadly, the cancer will grow or spread if left untreated, Schmidt said.

The new treatment uses low-level radiation, about the same as a patient would get from X-rays at the dentist’s office. It mostly stays at the skin’s surface, limiting side effects to the rest of the body. Radiation therapists use an ultrasound for precision, and the patient can see their tumor shrink.

“It was easy,” Cayford said. “It took 25 minutes three times a week.”

The treatment is only available at the Mill Creek location for now. Frontier plans to offer the treatment at eight clinics in the state over the next two years.

People are at higher risk for skin cancer if they have a fair complexion, light hair and eyes, or are immunocompromised. Prevention includes daily sunscreen and sun protection, such as sunglasses and hats.

“Consider planning outdoor activities during times of the day when there will be more shade,” said Kari Bray, a spokesperson for the county health department.

And living in rainy Washington is not an excuse to skip the sunscreen — up to 80% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays can penetrate clouds. A sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher is best, and should be reapplied at least every two hours, Schmidt said.

“Most skin cancers are diagnosed in people age 55 or older,” Bray said. “We recommend that older adults talk with their doctor about risk factors they may have and whether they should be doing additional screening or precautions.”

Mill Creek physician Dieter Schmidt, M.D. speaks about Washington’s first availability of the most advanced nonsurgical treatment for nonmelanoma skin cancer available to patients on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Mill Creek physician Dieter Schmidt, M.D. speaks about Washington’s first availability of the most advanced nonsurgical treatment for nonmelanoma skin cancer available to patients on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The best way to catch skin cancer early is through at-home skin exams and dermatologist visits. Skin cancer often grows on the the head, neck and arms, or other areas that get sun exposure. It usually looks like a mole, birthmark or brown spot that can change shape, size and color.

Skin cancer self-exam

Skin cancer appears as marks that are new, changing or unusual. After a head-to-toe self-exam, get checked by a dermatologist right away if:

• A mark has grown in size or thickness, changed color or texture, or is bigger than a pencil eraser; and

• A mark or sore bleeds, itches, scabs or hurt for longer than three weeks.

Know the ABCDEs of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. A mark may be melanoma if:

• The mark is Asymmetrical;

• The mark has an uneven or raised Border;

• The mark has multiple Colors;

• Compared to other marks, the mark has a large Diameter or is Dark; and

• The mark is Evolving.

Sydney Jackson: 425-339-3430; sydney.jackson@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @_sydneyajackson.

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