New skin cancer treatment is safer, easier than surgery

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Just looking at them, you know something is not right. Rick Cox has dealt with basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas several times, most recently on the side of his nose.

"It bothered me, it didn't heal, it constantly oozes," he said. "I've had it before so I know what the skin cancer looks like, feels like."

And after a previous experience, he also knew the most common way to treat it -- with surgery -- could leave scars or require extensive reconstructive surgery. He said that time the doctor had to take skin from above his eyes to cover the bridge of his nose.

"He took skin out of here to fix this and it was a long process," he said. "I looked like a raccoon and my whole face was black and blue."

Which is what brought him to Dr. Ajay Bhatnagar when a new tumor appeared. Bhatnagar treated him not with a scalpel, but with a little wand.

"Here is the X-ray source that delivers the radiation and here is the surface applicator, which is directly applied to the tumor," the doctor explained as he showed a small wand about 10 inches in length.

Using Cox as a model, the doctor shows how the Xoft Brachytherapy machine works, allowing doctors to deliver concentrated radiation directly to skin cancer tumors.

"Especially for the anatomic locations -- the nose, the eyes, the ears -- where surgery could be potentially detrimental, this allows us to spare the patient from surgery to these critical areas," Bhatnagar said.

Basically, the wand has a tiny X-ray tube inside of it. A variety of tips allow doctors to treat very specific areas.

"And this radiation can give very high dose to the precise location of that tumor while sparing the surrounding critical structures," Bhatnagar said. 

Cox said his actual procedure was surprisingly painless.

"You are sitting there thinking, geez, they're going to shoot me with radiation or a laser or something," he said. "But to be honest with you, you really don't feel anything. There is no burning sensation. Nothing is happening."

But with eight three- to five-minute treatments the tumor is destroyed.

"You can't see where the skin cancer was or how it was treated," Cox said.

Studies have shown the treatment is as effective as surgery and for Cox, it was a lot less traumatic, as well.

"My nose is like it was before and that is what I think is awesome about the whole procedure," he said.

Bhatnagar recently moved to Scottsdale, bringing the Xoft Brachytherapy machine to his practice at 21st Century Oncology.

For more information call 480-945-6896.