Beam Me Up, Doc

State-of-the-art therapy easily removes skin cancer.

In preparation for what they feared might be an attack by the Soviet Union somewhere else in the world, Presidents Truman and Eisenhower both opted to keep the distinguished 82nd Airborne Division of the US Army at home during the Korean War.

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Electron beam spray therapy has made skin cancer treatment easier for Herbert.

Herbert Robinson was among the soldiers who benefitted from those orders.

“I guess I was in the service at a good time, because I never got out of the states,” says Herbert, who served in the 82nd from 1952-55. “There were a few times when we thought we might be going to Korea, but it never happened. Obviously, I’m glad for that.”

Herbert’s good fortune allowed him to eventually build a life in Central New York, where he spent 40 years in the construction industry working as a crane operator. Those 40 years of work came at a cost, however.

Since retiring to Florida nearly 20 years ago, Herbert, 86, has had to make regular visits to area dermatologists to address the many skins cancers that have developed as a result of all the days he spent working in the sun.

“I’ve had them on my shoulders, both ears, my eyebrows – you name it,” Herbert says in frustration. “I’ve had so many skin cancers that for a while there, I was going to the doctor at least once every month to have one cut out.

“Not too long ago, they found one on the top of my head, but after they cut that one out, the stitches broke, and oh, what a mess it was. It was after that that my girlfriend read an article in Florida Health Care News about another doctor, so I decided to go see him.”

A New Path

The doctor Herbert’s girlfriend read about is Gerald H. Sokol, MD. He is a board-certified medical and radiation oncologist with Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, which has six locations throughout Pasco County.

“When Herbert came to us, he had been following the traditional path that most skin cancer patients follow, where they go to a dermatologist, get a skin cancer biopsied and then have surgery to remove it,” Dr. Sokol states.

“But he still had a lot of skin cancers that needed to be removed, and almost all of them were on his face. His face was basically one big skin cancer, so to have done further surgery on him would have been problematic, especially at his age.

“It would have taken a long time for him to heal and recover, but he found us as an alternative option to surgery, because we have a state-of-the-art, nonsurgical alternative for skin cancer removal for patients like Herbert that is highly effective.”

Known clinically as electron beam spray therapy, the treatment Dr. Sokol speaks of is well documented as being effective in easily treating both basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers all across the body, but especially around the eyes, ears, nose and lips.

As its name suggests, electron beam spray therapy uses thin, superficially-penetrating electron beams, not x-rays, to destroy cancer cells. It does so in a specifically targeted range that only moderately disturbs healthy cells, which greatly improves the patient’s cosmetic outcome.

“A good deal of the patients we work with here in Florida are older and have multiple skin cancers,” Dr. Sokol says. “If that’s the case, surgery can be effective but challenging because you need to remove larger areas of skin.

“Take it from someone who has had to undergo a lot of skin cancer treatments: This procedure is a no-brainer. It’s so much easier than surgery.” -Herbert

“But with electron beam spray therapy, we can outline large fields for treatment and attain cure rates that are comparable to surgery without bleeding, without the risk of infection or complications and with rapid healing and excellent cosmesis.

“Often times, you can’t even tell the patient has been treated. It’s a highly effective treatment that in this day and age we consider routine, and with newer programs with immunotherapeutic agents, it’s allowing us to control advanced skin cancer like never before.”

A typical regimen of electron beam spray therapy treatments consists of daily treatments across a two- to three-week period. Each treatment lasts less than two minutes, during which the patient typically experiences no discomfort.

Side effects are limited to the area receiving treatment and typically consist of a sunburn like redness with possible transient scabbing and a moist skin reaction that begins to dissipate shortly after completion of the treatment, which has a cure rate of between 90 and 95 percent.

“With cure rates like that, I think it’s important for people to know how advantageous it can be for them to see a radiation oncologist who has the potential to treat them alternatively to surgery, which does remain very effective,” Dr. Sokol concludes.

“Surgical procedures including Mohs surgery, remain highly effective for treating skin cancer. But it’s comforting that we have an equally effective treatment for skin cancer for those who are looking for an alternative.

“And it’s important to know that we can treat not only the local disease but regional disease, where it’s spread to lymph nodes, as well as disseminated disease through new methodologies of electron beam treatment and new drugs that are effective against skin cancer.”

Safe, Easy, Effective

Herbert is proof of that. He had grown weary of having skin cancers removed on a monthly basis, only to have a skin cancer reappear a year or two later in a different spot. He found the electron beam spray therapy much easier to tolerate and as effective as surgery.

“I’ve been seeing Dr. Sokol for a couple of years now, and the treatment is excellent,” Herbert raves. “It doesn’t hurt at all, and once you’ve had it done on an area where you have skin cancer, the skin cancer doesn’t come back. And it’s so easy.

“It takes me longer to take my shirt off than it does to have the treatment done. Take it from someone who has had to undergo a lot of skin cancer treatments: This procedure is a no-brainer. It’s so much easier than surgery.

“And Dr. Sokol is very personable, which I like. You can joke around with him, and he does great work. I only see him once every six months now, and that’s great. The best part is that I’ve found a procedure that really works well for me.”

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