Radiation treatment helps to effectively fight skin cancer

Here in the U.S. more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined. To treat skin cancer often requires surgery, which can be painful. But, for people in Lincoln there’s another treatment option.

“I’ve been struggling with basal cell cancer for several years,” said Jan Brown.

The CDC says 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer before the age of 70. Jan is just one of millions who have been diagnosed.

“We focus a lot on breast cancer and lung cancer and I think we kind of forget that skin cancer is the most common,” said Dr. Kevin Yiee of CHI St. Elizabeth radiation therapy. “Over five million lesions are treated each year.”

Brown says she tried traditional ways to treat her cancer.

“I had like three different Mohs surgeries, and I had a problem with reoccurring on my nose,” said Brown.

Brown says she knew skin cancer ran in her family, but didn’t always take precautions when out in the sun.

“As a child you don’t,” Brown said, “But I’m very conscious of it now. Sunscreen is my best friend.”

When her cancer kept coming back again and again, her dermatologist recommended she try something different. A type of radiation treatment known as brachytherapy. Dr. Kevin Yiee, who performs the treatment, says it’s a pretty simple procedure.

“The applicator is placed on whatever part of your body the skin lesion is on,” said Dr. Yiee. “You don’t feel anything and you don’t see anything during the treatments.”

According to Dr. Yiee, the success rate for brachytherapy is about 90 to 95 percent.

For Brown, the best part was no surgery and no surgical scars.

“I’d had trouble with scarring, and so this was really a blessing," Brown said. "This one doesn’t leave a scar,. In fact I think my nose looks better than it did before, so bonus!”

Brachytherapy can be used as a first line of defense against skin cancer in certain situations, but it can also be used in combination with surgery to provide the best result.

"We work closely with the dermatologists to determine the best course of action," Dr. Yiee said. "But, this really is only for the more common types of skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell. Because melanoma has a propensity to spread to other parts of the body, that one should be treated with surgery."

Brachytherapy is only available at CHI Health St. Elizabeth here in Lincoln. Dr. Yiee said he read about this treatment in places like Florida, where he says the incidence of skin cancer is higher.

"I took a seminar on how to do this kind of treatment and knew I needed to bring it to Lincoln," Dr. Yiee said. "I think people need options for cancer that don't involve cutting."

For brachytherapy, patients do 6 to 10 radiation treatments, each lasting less than five minutes.