Skin Cancer Patient Advocate, Navigator or Health Advocate
The concept of patient advocacy in its current form was developed in 1950’s as the treatment of cancer patients grew more and more technically complicated, as a means to make the voice of the patient more readily heard. In today’s world of constantly evolving medical techniques, treatments, and services, the average individual cannot be expected to be thoroughly acquainted with any and all this material. So it becomes the function of the skin cancer patient advocate to perform a variety of services to ease the burden of the patient, and their family, as they learn to deal with every aspect of the disease.
The primary concern of the skin cancer advocate to the support the cancer patient in all aspects of life with the disease, whether they be physical, emotional, or financial. An advocate can assist the patient in investigating available treatment options and educating the patient on the efficacy of each of them, be it pharmacological or surgical. By educating the patient, the advocate can be of great assistance in helping them make an informed decision about their course of action, and the possible side effects and outcomes. Support may also involve recommending counseling services for the patient, and their family members, to help them cope from day to day. Skin cancer patient advocates may also be of assistance in helping the patient, and their caregivers, deal with any physical debilitation resulting from the disease, and its treatment.
Another aspect of skin cancer patient advocacy is assistance in navigating the financial aspects of treating the disease. An advocate can act as a liaison between the patient and his or her insurance company, assuring that the patient receives any and all benefits to which they are entitled. When one is dealing with a serious disease, it is quite easy to lose track of other aspects of your life. An advocate can help to seek out sources of assistance which can ease the financial burden of the patient.
Education is also a major function of a cancer advocate. Both the patient, and their caregivers, are often in need of information about how the disease will affect their lives, both during its progression, and in its aftermath. Patients must be informed about how their condition will affect their mobility, the ability to care for themselves, and if they will be left with any permanent impairment to their lifestyle. Caregivers need to be instructed in mechanisms, or techniques they must use to cope with the patient’s daily care, such as injections, proper care of surgical dressings, etc.
The cancer patient, above everything else, needs to know that there is someone in their corner. Someone who will help them find their way through the confusing, and sometimes daunting, world of modern medicine. Someone who will have their best interests in mind as they face challenges presented every day in their struggle to find, secure, and finance the best treatment available.
What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells. This mostly affects areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun. But certain cancers are found even in covered parts of the body. There are three major types of this cancer and they are named after the type of cells they arise from. They are:
1. Squamous cell carcinoma
2. Basal cell carcinoma and
Other uncommon cancers of the skin are Kaposi sarcoma, Merkel cell carcinoma and sebaceous gland carcinoma. Kaposi sarcoma can be referred to as an opportunistic cancer since it affects people with low immunity as those with HIV/AIDS or those on immuno-suppressive drugs.
Early diagnosis and treatment offers the best prognosis for these cancers.
Each of the three cancers has distinct symptoms. Doctors use this as part of identifying the type so as to give the appropriate treatment. The collective symptoms include:
· Skin swelling which may be waxy and pearly
· Flesh colored scar-like lesions
· Hard nodules
· Lesion with a flat surface which may be crusted.
· Red lesions that bleed easily.
· A mole that suddenly undergo changes.
· Dark lesions may appear in areas with mucus membranes like the mouth, the anus and the vagina.
What Causes Skin Cancer?
Like most cancers, the exact cause is not well understood. Ultraviolet light from the sun or artificial sources appears to have major impact on the incidence of the cancer. This however, doesn’t explain why people similarly exposed will not necessarily get the cancer. This suggests that there may be other environmental factors that increase the risk. Some of these factors are:
· Presence of skin moles.
· High altitude climates
· Occupations that make a person remain exposed to the sun for long.
· Light-skinned people.
· Immunosuppressive states.
· Family history of the cancer.
· Previous suffering from the cancer.
· Exposure to therapeutic, accidental or occupation related radiation.
· Suffering from actinic keratosis lesions.
How Skin Cancer is Diagnosed?
The history of the skin changes gives the examining doctor an idea of whether the lesion in question could be cancer or not. Common tests include:
· Skin biopsy. This removes part of the lesion for histological examination. It may involve a wide excision biopsy that removes part of the surrounding normal skin. Sometimes this is all that is needed to know the stage of the cancer.
· Other tests may be done to rule out other skin conditions that can mimic cancer. These are certain fungal infections and a disease like leprosy where it is prevalent.
Treatment of Skin Cancer
In most cases a combination of methods is used in the treatment. The aim is to catch the cancer as early as possible. That is why people who have actinic keratosis (considered pre-cancerous) have to be treated by freezing the keratosed cells using liquid nitrogen before they become cancerous. Other measures are:
· Wide excision surgery.
· Moh’s surgery is a surgical technique used to treat combined cancers and in areas with limited skin.
· Chemotherapy is useful in treating both localized and metastasized cancer.
· Photodynamic therapy where laser light is used to destroy the cancer cells.
· Biological therapy where certain drugs are given to empower the body’s immunity which in turn destroys the cancer cells.
· General measures include use of appropriate sunscreen, avoidance of UV light and prolonged exposure to the sun whenever possible.
U.S Statistics for Skin Cancer
In the year 2011 almost 66000 people were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin.
About 9000 people died of the cancers in the same year.
Men dominate new cases and death figures.
These figures only refer to melanomas excluding basal cell and squamous cell types of skin cancers.