MOREHEAD CITY — A local dermatology office is one of the first in the area to offer patients a new technology that can treat non-melanoma skin cancers without surgery.

Dermatology Associates of Coastal Carolina recently purchased the Sensus SRT-100 Vision, a Superficial Radiation Therapy machine that removes certain skin cancers using radiation. The machine is available at the Dermatology Associates’ Morehead City office, as well the practice’s New Bern and Kinston locations.

Dermatology Associates radiation therapist Cody Beachum said the new technology is a less-invasive, non-surgical option for patients to treat squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas. It can not treat melanoma, however, which is the most advanced and dangerous skin cancer type.

Mr. Beachum said the technology is relatively new and unknown to most patients, so he wants to help educate people on the various options for treating skin cancer. The Morehead City office received its machine about four months ago.

“A lot of people just haven’t heard of it, and every time they hear something about radiation they get scared. But it’s really pain-free and it’s a good alternative to the Mohs surgery, which is what you usually do for skin cancer,” he said. “With this, there’s no cutting, you don’t have to worry about going to surgery or anything like that.”

For decades, Mohs surgery has been the primary method doctors use to remove skin cancers. While not a major surgery, the procedure requires the use of anesthesia as doctors cut into the skin to remove cancer cells. Mr. Beachum said because there is no surgical procedure involved with the SRT machine, there is little to no down time required for healing.

“For people who are diabetic or they have complications like high blood pressure, or they just take a long time to heal, this will be great because they don’t have to be cut up,” he said.

A full course of treatment to remove skin cancer with the SRT machine requires 20 individual sessions.

Mr. Beachum said most people do two to three sessions a week, with sessions usually lasting less than a minute under active radiation therapy. For those with Medicare and other types of insurance, the treatments often come with little to no out-of-pocket cost.

Along with the other benefits, the new technology has a similar cure rate to that of Mohs surgery, Mr. Beachum said.

Patients who undergo radiation therapy can expect to see a small red spot that may burn slightly for a while after the treatment. Mr. Beachum said the mark usually goes away after some time and treatment should not leave permanent scarring, unlike surgery.

The best way to treat skin cancer is to catch it early, Mr. Beachum said. He said everyone, especially those who are frequently exposed to sunlight, should do periodic skin checks for unusual moles. Skin cancer may appear as an irregularly shaped mole that changes size, shape or color.  

“It usually starts of as a small, red spot, you might see it scab up or something like that, and it doesn’t seem to want to go away, it doesn’t want to heal,” he said. “They would be able to go to our office, the doctor and the (physician’s assistant) would do a skin check and a skin biopsy just to have the confirmation that it is what it is, then they refer us to us for the treatment.”

If the skin cancer is the more aggressive melanoma, Mr. Beachum said the patient will be referred to a doctor who can perform surgery to remove it. He added it is best to see a doctor about suspected cancerous spots as soon as they are discovered in order to prevent complications further down the road.

He said skin cancer is relatively common in this area because of the proximity to the beach and outdoor activities, leading to increased sun exposure. He said skin cancer is frequently seen in seniors in particular because of years of accumulated damage and bad habits in their younger years.

“It’s super common around here, I would say it might be higher than average, just because we’re right here at the beach, people love to go out there,” he said.

To prevent skin cancer, limit your sun exposure, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If you will be in the sunlight, wear a sunscreen with SPF and protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat.

If you suspect a mole may be cancerous, contact a dermatologist, as skin cancer has a relatively high cure rate when it is caught early enough.

“Just get checked, that’s the biggest thing, just get checked,” Mr. Beachum said. “You don’t want this to go unnoticed and it’s best to catch it early.”

Contact Elise Clouser at elise@thenewstimes.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

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