Followers of the X-Men franchise got a scare when screen sensation Hugh Jackman revealed that he had been treated for cancer. Before fans could get (Les) Miserable, Jackman reassured all that he had undergone successful skin surgery to remove basal cell skin cancer (BCC) from his nose. Jackman is the latest in a line of film icons to undergo treatment for facial BCC, including US President Ronald Reagan, 70’s era 007 Roger Moore and Cleopatra herself, Elizabeth Taylor.
Echoing the themes of Jackman’s upcoming X-Men flick, “Days of Future Past,” BCC results from chronic sun exposure from years before, likely from his upbringing in Australia. While dark black and irregularly shaped melanoma tends to get all the press, BCC is actually much more common, yet usually less worrisome. Melanoma can potentially spread to lymph nodes and metastasize. BCC tends to gradually get larger locally but otherwise stay put. If melanoma skin cancer is Darth Vader, consider BCC to be an Imperial Storm Trooper.
Probably the trickiest aspect of BCC is its subtle appearance. In this high res images taken at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2013, note slight redness and crust on Hugh’s nasal bridge. Sometimes BCC can look shiny or pearly and may display thin scarlet blood vessels. If a skin lesion fails to heal over the course of weeks or months, consider BCC and have a dermatologist take a look.
Local surgical treatment is typically curative, just a few “Snikt”s from a dermatologist’s scalpel. Adamantium, the indestructible metal that makes up Wolverine’s claws, is not required. It is possible that Jackman underwent Mohs surgery. This procedure involves removing small amounts of tissue and then testing the specimen while the patient waits. Though time and labor intensive, the typical result is a smaller scar, important for any patient, not just a movie star.
Kudos to Jackman for spreading the word about BCC and encouraging fair skinned folk to use sunscreen.