Spas treat skin spots that turn out to be cancer

CALL7 Investigators Find A Loophole In State Rules That Allows Misdiagnoses, Puts Lives At Risk

DENVER - State rules regulating Colorado spas and laser centers have a large loophole that allows technicians to treat blemishes that could be cancer without a doctor checking the patient, a CALL7 Investigation found.

The Colorado State Board of Medical Examiners requires treatment centers, which provide laser or other similar treatments, to have a medical director who sets up a protocol of treatment. But that doctor does not have to see the patients. There are also no standards set by the board as to what the protocol must include.

"There is not a requirement that the physician be on site," said Marschall Smith, administrator for the state medical board.

“You don't check to see whether the doctors are actually seeing any of the patients or whether they have any charts on patients?” asked CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia.

“That's correct,” Smith said. “We don't have the statutory authority to do those things.”

“So you have to have a protocol but there are no standards for that protocol?” Ferrugia asked.

“That would be a correct statement,” Smith said.

Dr. Nathan Trookman, a licensed dermatologist, often treats the clients of spa and laser treatment centers.

"We're seeing people come in here who have skin cancers that are missed,” Trookman said.

Two women who had treatments of dark spots that turned out to be cancer spoke to Ferrugia about their experiences.

Kim Harty went to Mateo’s Day Spa in Colorado Springs for a facial and was directed to the spa's laser clinic, Skin Savvy, to treat some a dark spot. But the spot ended up being melanoma.

“She said they're just facial discolorations or sunspots and a couple treatments with the laser will take care of it,” Harty said, adding she was not seen by a doctor or referred to a physician.

After the second treatment the area became very red and changed shape so Harty went to a doctor.

“He said it was melanoma and it needed to be taken care of immediately,” Harty said.

Tamara, who asked her last name not be used, had a similar experience at a Lakewood spa, Aesthetic Nurse Specialists, where she went with her mother and sister for a day of pampering.

Tamara said the technician offered treatment for what the technician said was dry skin or eczema.

“She was making a medical evaluation of what was on your face?” Ferrugia asked.

“Absolutely,” Tamara said. “She diagnosed it right from the get-go as just, you know, eczema.”

The spot started moving up her hairline and a doctor determined it was cancer. She underwent treatment to get rid of the cancer and plastic surgery to fade the scar from the cancer treatment.

Harty said there should be regulations that would protect clients.

“I don't think any spa should be allowed to do anything -- any technician should be able to do anything -- without a doctor first making a diagnosis,” she said.

Skin Savvy did not return calls seeking comment. An employee at Aesthetic Nurse Specialists conceded that the spa did not recognize Tamara's cancer when they treated the spot with a deep wave machine.