Actually, to be specific, Seborrheic Keratoses (seb-o-REE-ick Ker-ah-TOE-sees).
I found this thing on my ass, of all places. It was a mostly round, raised area, with a brown circle, almost like a cell nucleus off to one side, and the rest was red. I went to see a doctor over a month ago, and got referred to a dermatologist. The doc said it wasn’t cancer, so I guess that’s why there was no big rush. Of course, it’s also because the University is trying out this new managed care thing, and rather than have an employee stop by the employee health clinic and get seen right away, I guess it’s better to make appointments, and wait for those to come around, if I can remember to even go. But, I’m straying from the story here.
So the dermatologist, over a month later, takes a look at it, and she says right off what it is. I’ve got a nice pamphlet explaining it all. So, nobody really knows why these things occur, but they’re not cancerous, and they’re not from sun exposure. That is pretty obvious, especially if you saw how white my ass is. I’ve never had sun shining on that part of my anatomy for very long. Here’s the salient point from the brochure: “…almost everybody will eventually develop at least of few of these growths. They are sometimes referred to as barnacles of old age.” How nice.
“They become more common and more numerous with advancing age,” which is what my doc kept trying to say, without ever mentioning age. She said, “as we get wiser” and things like that, trying to be funny, I guess. I said, “You mean, as we get older and fatter?” She didn’t want to agree with that.
Anyway, my barnacle is irritated, probably by having my jeans rubbing against it all the time. Even though it isn’t dangerous to have one, these barnacles can itch or bleed, so they are often removed (among those of us with health insurance). Liquid nitrogen to the rescue! So I ended up having my ass frozen by Dr. Kim, a pretty young doctor. Not so bad.
Meanwhile, there are also actinic keratoses. The first doctor I went to noticed them on my forehead. They are little tiny hard bumps; they feel like a piece of sand glued to my forehead, and I’m always scratching them off. These I hadn’t given much thought to. I had felt them on my scalp before, and asked another doctor about them, but he tried to tell me they were just sand, and only after bugging him about it did he finally admit they were probably keratoses, which can be pre-cancerous. He dismissed it as insignificant and harmless, so I never worried about it. Hey, I’m getting old anyway, so who cares? Long story short, these are also called solar keratoses, because they are found on fair-skinned people who have had significant sun exposure; they are considered the earliest stage in the development of skin cancer (10% do become actual cancers). How nice.
Again, treatment #1 is freeze ’em right off with liquid nitrogen. That was more fun. However, it’s likely I have more, and will continue to develop more around my forehead and slowly receding hairline, so rather than make regular trips to have my face and scalp spot-frozen the rest of my life (the doc gives me another 30 years), there are other methods. One is a topical chemotherapy lotion that really reddens the skin for awhile ( that’ll look really nice all over my forehead), and the other is another cream that promotes an immune-type of response (also possibly creating red blotches all over my forehead) for a much longer time. I have a prescription for that, so once these frozen ones fall off, I will start using that. After three months: fours weeks of treatment, four none, four treatment, I should be through with these little things. The odd thing: the cream, Aldara, is also used for genital warts and actual skin cancers (basal cell carcinomas). In my incarnation as a cancer lab worker, I used to give skin cancer to rats, then treat them with combinations of drugs and radiation, before those treatments were tried on terminal cancer patients. Then I had to dissect them – skin cancer will eventually invade the entire body, organs, lungs, brains – not a pretty sight.
And, the moral of this story? Use sunscreen, especially when you’re young. The doc, the young pretty one, said I probably got these started when I was 18 or so. Actually, it was riding a bicycle around the country a few times in my 20s, but close enough. Never wore a hat much, and certainly never used sunscreen. Of course, my parents took us to the beach every summer as kids, and we always got sunburned, every single time. It wasn’t ’till I lived in Arizona for awhile, after bicycling in from the East Coast, and working outdoors there, that I ever had a sustainable tan of any kind. I told Dr. Kim that it was great: I was tanned and muscled for the first time in my life. She thought that was pretty funny, or wanted to me to think I was funny.
“Who’s that knocking on my door?” said the fair Young Maiden….”
Just call me Barnacle Bill the Sailor.
You should listen to or read the bawdy lyrics for Barnacle Bill the Sailor sometime.
You won’t believe it! (Barnacle Bill the Sailor song lyrics)
A much tamer version: Betty Boop Cartoon
UPDATE: 4/30/08. I’ve started treatment for the actinic keratoses. Weird! The first morning after treatment I could see more of the little bumps under the skin, and they stay visible. No reddening of the skin yet. I did wake up with acid reflux. Felt like acid in my throat. Later on, I felt so tired I was like the walking dead. Drank an extra coffee to get me through the day. I was unusually talkative, and even more unrestrained in what I said to people than usual. Suddenly, about 9pm last night, I felt like I woke up. My mind was clear, and I felt happy. I even smiled, for no reason at all. Odd.
UPDATE: 08/14/08. Finished treatment last month, but one area still itches. Every place I saw raised bumps and scabs that itched like crazy during treatment, but only that one area still itches every day. Odd. I learned that 10% of all actininc keratoses become skin cancer, so I do wonder.