Last spring, Jeff Karp had just had his first routine skin cancer checkup and was about to walk out of the exam room when the 46-year-old on a whim decided to ask his dermatologist about a spot on his cheek.
It was small – less than an inch in diameter – and faintly red. Karp first noticed it a year or two earlier, but thought it was part of the aging process. Everything during his full body scan was normal, the visit was over and he had already put his mask back on, so the question came out of the blue.
“I’ve been a bit dubious about whether to ask about it or not,” Karp, Ph.D, a biomedical engineer and professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told TODAY. “The thought didn’t even occur to me that it could be skin cancer.”
But that’s exactly what it was. Karp’s dermatologist took a look and recommended a biopsy.
This skin cancer tends to grow slowly and isn’t life-threatening for most people, but it must be treated before it can grow deep and damage nerves and blood vessels, the AAD noted. It is most common in fair-skinned people who rarely use sunshade†
The cancer can look like a pink or reddish growth that dips in the center, an ulcer that doesn’t heal, or a spot that feels scaly.
Karp recalled getting “some pretty severe (sun) burns” when he was younger. He played two rounds of golf a day and spent eight to ten hours in the sun. The scientist said he used sunscreen “here and there,” but wouldn’t necessarily reapply it.
Karp’s wife had encouraged him to have a skin check, but it wasn’t until March that he finally went.
The question he asked at the end of his visit is known as the “doorknob phenomenon”, when a patient waits for the doctor to have his or her hand on the doorknob to leave the exam room to reveal something that often provides crucial information.
After his diagnosis, Karp was getting ready to have surgery to remove the skin cancer when the surgeon noticed it wasn’t too deep and recommended that the skin cancer be removed. Aldaraa cream to treat superficial basal cell carcinoma instead.
Karp was prescribed a six-week treatment, with the cream applied five days a week, with weekends off. He captured the startling skin changes at that time by taking a picture almost every day.
As a scientist who invents medical technologies and is fascinated by how things work, Karp explained the treatment as follows:
“This cream is actually topical immunotherapy. It activates the local immune system in a very important way so that your immune system can recognize and kill the cancer cells,” he said.
“But while activating the immune system, a lot of inflammation is created, and what’s interesting is that inflammation also allows the cream, the therapeutic, to penetrate even deeper, because your skin is more permeable because it’s now inflamed.” is. .”
Karp, who recently finished treatment, said his skin is expected to fully regenerate and return to normal or even better than before. But navigating the world during treatment was challenging, he recalled.
That part of his face was uncomfortable and sometimes dripping with blood, so he had to sleep with a towel on his pillow. Kids would stare at Karp when he was in public, and he avoided eye contact with people or walked nearby because he didn’t want to make them uncomfortable. It has taken its toll on his mental health.
“When it was the last few weeks of treatment, I was unsure whether I should stop because it just made me really bad,” he said. “Now I am in this very positive space because the treatment is over. I’m clearly on my way to recovery, and I’m not that self-conscious about it.”
Karp now wears a wide-brimmed hat outside and carries an umbrella for extra protection from the sun at outdoor events, such as watching his son play football. He keeps sunscreen in his car and purse so it’s always on hand. He hopes others can learn from his ordeal and be more motivated to protect their skin, he recently said wrote online†
When it comes to skin checks, dermatologists emphasize that patients should be a partner in the process. See yourself and your dermatologist as a team. Scan your body between appointments and take pictures of your moles to track any changes and show them to your doctor.
“Everyone should really become familiar with their own moles because that’s going to save your life,” Dr. Julie Karen, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, previously told TODAY†
As for the “doorknob” question, Karp wasn’t surprised that that was necessary to get a diagnosis and emphasized the importance of “collaboration with the dermatologist.”
“[It’s]not just going for a routine checkup, but also highlighting the dermatologic changes you’ve seen over time that may require a deeper look,” he said.