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Daily Mail: Amanda Platell ‘obliterates her skin cancer’ using Photodynamic Therapy

March 20, 2013


A beam of light obliterated my skin cancer – and didn’t even leave a  scar

By Amanda Platell

Twelve years ago my doctor diagnosed two basal cell ­carcinomas on my  forehead.

I knew something was wrong because these innocent-­looking bits of dried,  slightly scabby skin had refused to heal or go away — a telltale sign I had a  BCC, as they’re known in the skin cancer trade.

BCCs are a form of pre-cancerous sun ­damage that can develop into skin  cancer, which is why they have to come off.

Amanda Platell having photodynamic therapy
Amanda Platell having photodynamic therapy – a  revolutionary new laser treatment which removes BCCs without having to resort to  the knife

Growing up in Australia long before we knew how damaging the sun was, I’d had  my first BCC removed when I was just 25 — and I’d have another batch removed  every three or four years or so.

I was never a sun worshipper, but living in a sunny climate exposes your skin  to ­danger. A Mediterranean climate with an English ­complexion is a  recipe for disaster.

In those days, they used liquid ice to burn off small BCCs. If you didn’t  catch them early, they had to be cut out, which is what ­happened 12 years  ago in London when I found the two on my forehead.

I had the best plastic surgeon in Britain do the job, but removing the one in  my ­eyebrow left me with a scar and a chunk of the eyebrow ­was  permanently missing. The larger one on my forehead left another scar the size  and shape of a five pence piece.

But that is a thing of the past now. A ­revolutionary new laser treatment  can remove BCCs without having to resort to the knife, so avoiding nasty scars.

Four months ago, I had this treatment — photodynamic therapy — and not only  has the lesion completely gone, but I have no ­scarring. It really is  incredible.

My BCC was the return of the one I’d had removed in 1998. For some reason,  the ­surgeon didn’t manage to get all the pre-­cancerous cells out and  it regrew. I’d noticed the suspicious piece of dry skin in my eyebrow ages  ago, but ignored it because my eyebrow covered it.

Unmarked: Amanda Platell's eyebrow before and after
Unmarked: Amanda’s eyebrow before and after
Amanda Platell's eyebrow after photodynamic therapy

Last Christmas, when I was back in Australia, I had my annual skin cancer  check-up. This involves stripping to your bra and undies and ­having  every part of your body inspected (except the bits under your bikini line — unless you’re a ­naturalist, in which case it’s the lot!).

A pair of magnifying ­goggles, like a miner’s torch, are worn by a ­specialist, to shine a light on your skin to ­highlight the sun damage.  These days, they even check the soles of your feet and between your toes. They  also check all through your hair, a procedure not dissimilar to being inspected  for head lice — you can get skin cancer on your scalp, although no one realised  for years.

The only suspicious spot was in my eyebrow. Back in ­London, I went to  see my skin specialist Lee Garrett, from Freedomhealth, who did a biopsy of the  lesion by ­scraping a small amount off.

The result came back as we suspected. I’ve probably had about 50 ­­­pre-cancerous lesions removed from my face, neck and arms over  the years and they almost always leave some scarring. The bigger ones ­certainly do.

So when I heard about a ­scar-free way to remove BCCs, I wanted to try  it. Photodynamic therapy uses drugs that make ­cancer cells ­sensitive  to light. When the treated area is exposed to a laser, the cancer cells are  destroyed. It’s a pioneering treatment that’s being used to treat neck and mouth  cancers and, more recently, oesophageal cancer too.

Amanda Platell
‘Not only has the lesion completely gone, but I have no ­scarring’

Much of the work into the ­treatment, which involves ­inserting fibre  optics into the body, is being done at ­University College ­Hospital, ­London.

Photodynamic therapy is also used to treat ­sun-related skin ­damage — BCCs, Bowen’s ­disease (a pre-cancerous skin ­condition) and actinic  keratoses (areas of raised, rough skin that are ­sensitive to the sun and  have a small risk of developing into skin cancer).

The skin cancer is treated in two stages, one week apart. First, a ­special cream is applied to and around the lesion and covered by a  light-blocking dressing. The chemicals in the cream are attracted to the­abnormally ­growing cancer cells, ­sensitising them to  light.

Then comes the laser bit. Here, you lie down in a ­darkened room with ­protective glasses for your eyes and the bandage is removed.

Under the laser, you can see how big the lesion is; it also shows up any ­surrounding skin cells that are damaged but not ­visibly so to the  naked eye.

A BCC is like an iceberg — what you see is just  the tip of the ­cancer.  On the surface, my main one was as wide as the  finest ­spaghetti and about  a third of an inch long. But — shockingly — ­underneath my skin it was the ­circumference of a golf ball.

Lee said I needed ten minutes of laser treatment. They were ten long  minutes, as it causes a ­burning sensation that stops when the light is  turned off. When the procedure was repeated a week later, Lee ­anaesthetised the area and gave me some ­painkillers. I have a high  pain threshold, but even I found it ­uncomfortable.

However, I was able to get up and go back to work after the treatment, on  both occasions.

I had to wear a bandage over the treated area for a couple of weeks until it  healed, but that was more due to vanity than necessity.

Not long afterwards, my father arrived from ­Australia. He had just had a  BCC cut off his face in the old fashioned way and I was reminded of how bad the  scarring can be.

For a seasoned old skin ­cancer veteran like me, it truly is ­miraculous the way, with photodynamic therapy, the skin had not been  damaged and yet the ­carcinoma is completely gone.

I’d never have another one treated in any other way, ­provided I catch it  in time. Photodynamic therapy is not suitable for ­developed melanomas, but  if you are alert to the signs, you can catch them early.

Yet BCCs are such tricky little devils. While we were doing the treatment,  the photographer Ben asked Lee what they look like.

He told him they come in a ­variety of guises, but often it’s just a bit  of dry skin that won’t heal and occasionally gets scabby.

‘Like that on your arm, there,’ Lee said, pointing to what looked like an  early BCC. ‘Or that one there.’

Despite the benefits, ­photodynamic therapy for skin ­cancer is not  easily accessible on the NHS.

It costs £1,480 privately, ­including biopsy — less than half what my ­cosmetic surgeon charged me to cut off two BCCs 12 years ago.

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Medical grade technology and premises

Lee Garrett practices from medical premises registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in the prestigious Harley Street medical district. The clinic is continually investing in the latest equipment and technology to ensure that patients can have access to the very best. All the latest medical-grade lasers, skin machines and medical treatments are available. All medications and skincare products are stored under the recommended conditions under strict guidelines to ensure that the clinic is compliant with the highest medical standards. Our standards are audited and independently assessed by the CQC, the independent regulator of all health and social care in England.

Why trust Lee Garrett with your skin?

1You want 5 star care & service

2You want a clinician that listens

3You want access to the latest techniques & technology

4You want to be treated by experienced hands

5You want the very best results