By Leah Fox
A dad who thought the blotches on his scalp were ‘just dry skin’ discovered he actually had deadly skin cancer thanks to a life-saving app – and had to have skin grafted from his thigh onto his head.
Peter Wilson, 68, from Melbourne, Australia, had previously noticed a few dry patches of skin on his bald head, with a one inch red spot remaining on his scalp for several months.
At first the IT consultant didn’t think much about the patch but when the area became more inflamed and painful, he downloaded SkinVision, an NHS-backed app which uses AI to identify potential risks of skin cancer.
The app suggested he see a doctor immediately and his GP referred him to a dermatologist in August 2019 who took skin biopsies that came back positive for squamous cell carcinoma.
Peter was quickly booked in for surgery to remove a two inch patch of skin from his scalp in October last year which surgeons took a skin graft from his right thigh to cover – with him needing 40 staples in his head and a further 20 in his thigh.
Grandad-of-one Peter said: “Over a number of years I spotted some dry patches on my head and some blotches.
“My skin has always been dry but these spots were a bit more red and angry.
“The patches were more inflamed and didn’t go away – but I didn’t think much of it.
“I did some research online and came across the SkinVision app and scanned the spots on my head.
“They advised me to see a specialist, but that was something I put off for a while – my wife Isobel, 67, is a nurse and urged me to go to the doctors about it.
“The dermatologist took a couple of biopsies from my scalp, and some from my cheek, and checked the rest of my body.
“The biopsies came back positive for skin cancer and I was booked in for an appointment to remove this infected skin.
“It was more than a shock – I’m a very active person and had to stop running and going to the gym for two months after surgery, I really missed it.
“My kids were shocked and more than a little anxious and my extended family were horrified when they found out I had skin cancer.
“I’m glad I caught it early – you usually just think this is the kind of thing that only happens to other people.
“I was impressed by the SkinVision app and I am sure it will develop into an incredibly important tool – it saved my life.
Peter underwent the 20-minute operation under local anaesthetic and was given the news prior to the op the cancer luckily hadn’t spread.
Surgeons took a skin graft from his right thigh and expanded it, holding the graft and surgery dressings down to his scalp with 40 staples.
They used a further 20 staples to hold a further dressing down to his thigh wound.
Peter, who has no history of skin cancer in his family, said: “Recovery was quick but very uncomfortable because of the staples and I had to change the dressings on my head and leg often.
“The staples all had to come out one at a time, which was quite a painful experience.
“The worst part was the skin graft – I had a bit of a bleed with the dressing on my thigh, so peeling that off was excruciating.”
Luckily, prior to the operation Peter was told the cancer had been caught early enough and wasn’t particularly aggressive but had the potential to spread through the dermis in that area.
If left unchecked may eventually spread further in his body, so the surgeon’s strategy was to remove enough of the area to prevent further damage.
He is now waiting to hear back from his dermatologist whether he is at risk of developing further cases of skin cancer, and he’s urging others to be wary of suspicious looking patches of skin.
Peter said: “Back in the 70s and 80s when I was young, there wasn’t much information about sun protection – everyone just knew that if you stayed in the sun too long, you would get sunburnt. and we often got burnt while we were at the beach, swimming and surfing.
“When I was at university, I used to work over the Christmas break carting hay for a contractor. I would spend about 14 to 15 hours exposed to the sun while working every day and I only wore boots, jeans and a singlet.
“The effects of the sun back then weren’t as bad as they are today, now that the Ozone layer has been damaged over Australia.
“I used to be pretty blase about the sun but now I wear a hat all the time and put sunscreen on any exposed skin.
“The fact of the matter is, the sun nowadays is fairly dangerous to skin – you’ve got to be crazy if you don’t use protection.
“You really can’t afford to be blasé about the sun, you have to protect your skin in summer and winter.
“Cancer is a horrible thing and [if you’re not careful] you’re at risk of dying.
“Another warning to people is to get these suspicious things looked at early before they escalate.
“That is where Skin Vision is really helpful – getting a quick, no fuss assessment is something that people will jump on.”