Q. I wonder if a new at-home treatment to freeze off skin tags is a good option?
A. Consultant dermatologist Dr. Nick Lowe of the Cranley Clinic in London (drnicklowe.com) has concerns about cryotherapy freezing technology used as self-treatment, because ‘it is difficult to get the level of freezing just right. You need enough to remove the problem,’ he says. ‘But if the level is too high, you risk permanent lightening or temporary – sometimes long-term – darkening of the surrounding skin, particularly in Asian or olive skin tones.’
Also, the instructions for such devices say to hold up the skin tag (presumably with tweezers) and freeze the stalk, but Dr Lowe says there is often little or no stalk. Instead, he suggests consulting your GP or dermatologist who may use much more targeted methods, eg, needle electrocautery or CO 2 laser.
After successful treatment, Dr. Lowe recommends gently exfoliating the area (usually the neck, the underarms and under the breasts in women) twice weekly, which may help to prevent new tags forming.
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NEW HOPE FOR HEART FAILURE PATIENTS
In 2003, businessman Ian Rosenberg, then 67, was told his failing heart condition was so serious that he had just two months to live. A pioneering treatment called cardiac stem-cell therapy offered a slim ray of hope, but it was only available in Germany. Ian had the treatment privately and lived until August 2006.
During his extra lease of life, Ian and his wife Jenifer Rosenberg OBE set up the Heart Cells Foundation (HCF) to raise money for UK trials of this groundbreaking therapy at Barts Health NHS Trust, London. There is no NHS budget for this research, but the success of the HCF Regenerate trials has led to the first Compassionate Treatment Programme, headed by consultant cardiologist Professor Anthony Mathur of Barts Health, and funded by the charity. This will offer stem-cell therapy to patients for whom there is no further option.
Heart failure affects about 900,000 people in the UK every year. It is caused by the heart muscle becoming too weak or stiff to pump enough blood around the body at the right pressure. Key symptoms are breathlessness and extreme tiredness, and it can lead to sudden death.
Over the past decade, Professor Mathur’s team has conducted four clinical trials in people ‘to understand whether the use of a patient’s own stem cells [not embryonic stem cells, which have led to controversy] can repair the damage that causes the heart to pump weakly. We have demonstrated an improvement in the pumping action and [apparent] benefits that include better quality of life and reduced symptoms,’ he says.
Heart failure is a growing problem worldwide and the Barts team is keen to progress to larger ‘phase 3’ clinical trials, which will hopefully show that cardiac stem-cell therapy prolongs life and improves symptoms. If the research proves positive, Professor Mathur hopes that the treatment will be available through the NHS and other healthcare systems.
CARDIAC STEM-CELL THERAPY
• Stem cells are the body’s master cells, which can become any type of cell that makes up organs in the body. Regenerative medicine is exploring their potential to heal damaged parts.
• They are harvested under local anaesthetic. A small needle is passed into the hip bone at the base of the back and a cupful of cells withdrawn from the bone marrow into a syringe.
• The cells are purified in a specialised laboratory and the relevant cell type is returned into the patient via injection under local anaesthetic.