Beam Me Up, Doc

Painless state-of-the-art therapy easily removes skin cancer.

Herbert Robinson

When he retired 23 years ago, Herbert Robinson traded in the seat he had long occupied as a crane operator for one on a motorcycle. Over the next 20-plus years, Herbert put an “unheard of” number of miles on that bike.

“After I got down here to Florida, I rode for more than 100,000 miles,” the 87-year-old New York native reveals. “It’s not often that you see anybody do that, but I really enjoyed riding. I’d still be riding today, but my reflexes are getting slower. I noticed a while back that it was taking me a few seconds longer to do things that I should have been doing much quicker, so I gave it up and gave the motorcycle to my grandson.”

There’s a part of Herbert that wishes he had given up the motorcycle a few years earlier. The same goes for the job as a crane operator. After all, his many days in the sun on both seats have come at a cost. For several years, Herbert has had to make regular visits to area dermatologists to receive treatment for the many skin cancers that have developed as a result of his days outdoors.

“I’ve had them on my shoulders, my 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 long ago, they found one on the top of my head. 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, in which they go to a dermatologist, get a skin cancer biopsied and then have surgery to remove it,” Dr. Sokol states.

“But Herbert still had a lot of skin cancers that needed to be removed, and almost all of them were on his face. To have done further surgery on him would have been problematic, especially at his age, because it would have taken a long time for him to heal and recover.

“That’s why he came to us. He came here looking for an alternative to surgery and, fortunately, we have a state-of-the-art, nonsurgical alternative for skin cancer removal that is highly effective. For patients like Herbert, it’s a tremendous option.”

Known clinically as electron beam spray therapy, the treatment Dr. Sokol endorses has proved effective in easily treating basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers around the body, including the ears, nose, lips and around the eyes.

As the 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.

“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.

“This procedure is a no-brainer. It’s so much easier than surgery.” – Herbert

“Oftentimes, 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 it’s allowing us to control advanced skin cancer like never before.”

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

Side effects are limited to the area targeted and typically consist of a sunburn-like redness that begins to dissipate shortly after completion of the treatment, which has a cure rate of between 90 and 98 percent.

“With cure rates like that,” Dr. Sokol reasons, “it’s important that skin cancer patients seek alternatives to surgery, including Mohs surgery,” a procedure in which thin layers of cancerous skin are progressively removed until only cancer-free tissue remains.

“Surgical procedures, including Mohs surgery, remain highly effective, but there are good alternatives.”

Another option is an immunotherapeutic agent called cemiplimab. Dr. Sokol says cemiplimab is used with patients whose skin cancers have been resistant to standard treatments such as radiotherapy and surgeries.

“Someone who would use the therapy is someone who has an advanced cancer that has been treated surgically and with radiotherapy and with a targeted agent called a hedgehog inhibitor,” Dr. Sokol educates. “If that patient was resistant to all of those methods of treatment, then he’d be a candidate for cemiplimab.

“In the simplest terms, it’s a treatment for patients with advanced resistant disease. Thankfully, most skin cancers are curable with electron beam therapy or through surgery, so we don’t have to use cemiplimab very often. But when cancers get out of hand, behave aggressively and are resistant to standard treatments, we can use cemiplimab.”

Safe, Easy, Effective

Herbert’s skin cancers have not required cemiplimab. Since he first visited Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute about three years ago, his skin cancers have been treated successfully through electron beam therapy, which he raves about.

“The treatment is excellent,” Herbert exudes. “It doesn’t hurt, and once you’ve had it done on an area where you have skin cancer, the skin cancer doesn’t come back. It’s so easy, and the treatments take no time at all. It takes me longer to take my shirt off than it does to have the treatment.

“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.”

© FHCN article by Roy Cummings. Photos by Jordan Pysz. mkb
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