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Published on July 17, 2010

Skin cancer

Radiation therapy an option for some

Valerie Ramsey

"It was quick and easy and painless.
I stopped at Community Hospital on
my way to work every day. It didn't
slow me down a bit." - Valerie

Valerie Ramsey had a skin cancer on her forehead successfully removed surgically, but when a new cancer appeared just below her right eye, her doctors recommended a different treatment: radiation therapy.

They were concerned about the growth's proximity to her eye and the likelihood she would need plastic surgery if it was removed through Mohs surgery, a process in which a doctor removes the skin growth and the areas just around it by layers, examining each layer under a microscope until no abnormal cells remain.

Naturally, Ramsey was concerned about protecting her eye. But the cosmetic outcome was also important. Seven years ago, at the age of 63, she started a career as a model and has become a sought-after speaker on aging gracefully.

She followed her doctors' advice and went to the Radiation Oncology department at Community Hospital for treatment.

"Radiation worked beautifully," Ramsey says. "I would recommend it to anybody who has a choice of treatment options."

What can be treated

Superficial X-ray therapy may be appropriate for treatment of conditions including:

  • Basal and squamous cell carcinoma The most common skin cancer
  • Keloid scars Raised, reddish nodules that develop at the site of an injury or a surgery such as a cesarean section
  • Mycosis fungoides A type of lymphoma

Ramsey received 17 treatments over 25 days, each lasting about 2 minutes. She was seated in a reclining chair similar to the type found in a dental office. Her right eye was protected by a custom-made, lightweight lead guard. A specialized radiation machine developed specifically for treatment of skin cancer was carefully directed at the cancerous spot.

"This treatment," says Dr. Patrick Feehan, radiation oncologist, "is an especially good choice for skin cancers of the ear and nose, when it's important to have a good cosmetic result, as well as for those near the eyes and mouth, where movement and appearance are important."

At the end of treatment, Ramsey briefly had a small scab, but today her skin is again model-beautiful. And she's busy promoting the book she wrote with her daughter, Gracefully: Looking and Being Your Best at Any Age; makes regular television appearances talking about looking and feeling your best; and continues to model.

"It was quick and easy and painless," Ramsey says. "I stopped at Community Hospital on my way to work every day. It didn't slow me down a bit."

Community Hospital has been treating skin cancer and other skin conditions with what's called superficial X-ray therapy for more than 12 years. The hospital uses a system developed by Gulmay Medical and recently installed the latest model. The machine treats just the top layer of tissue, where the cancer cells are found. Four different energy levels are available, enabling doctors to customize the depth of treatment for each patient.

"Community Hospital is one of the few radiation oncology centers in Northern California to have a machine designed specially for treating skin cancer," says Dr. Bradley Tamler, radiation oncologist.

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