Questions to Ask Your Doctor After Being Diagnosed with Skin Cancer

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • You recently noticed some skin lesions or abnormal moles and made a doctor's appointment. After spending days or weeks worrying, it is now time to sit down with the doctor and find out if you do indeed have cancer. You are both nervous and scared. You wonder about what it means to have cancer, how will it impact your life, your family's life, what is involved in treatment and whether or not you will survive. When faced with a diagnosis of cancer, one way to manage and cope is to become actively involved in your treatment and care. This starts as soon as you receive a diagnosis of cancer, by asking questions and being involved in the decisions about your treatment.

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    The following are questions to ask your doctor after you have received a diagnosis of skin cancer:

     

    What type of skin cancer do I have? The term skin cancer is a general term which encompasses several different types of skin cancer, some more dangerous and requiring more aggressive treatment than others. Melanoma results in more deaths than any other type of skin cancer but only accounts for about 5 percent of all skin cancers. Other types of skin cancer include: squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, Kaposi's sarcoma. Be sure you understand which type of skin cancer you have.

     

    How far has my cancer spread? Skin cancer first develops in the top layers of the skin but can spread downward, reaching lymph nodes and blood vessels and continue to spread to other parts of the body. Talk with your doctor about how far your cancer has spread and ask how he determined this and whether or not additional tests are needed to find out if the cancer has spread.

     

    What treatment options are available? There are different treatments for skin cancer, including dermabrasion, skin grafts, radiation and a specialized surgery called Mohs surgery. Based on the type of cancer and how much it has spread your doctor may consider certain treatments better than others, ask your doctor not only which treatment he feels is best but why he thinks this is your best option.

     

    What are the risks of treatment? In order to make the best possible decision, you need to know the risks involved in each type of treatment and how it will impact your life, both short-term and long-term. Can you continue to work while receiving treatment? Can you care for your family? What type of assistance might you need? Do certain treatments have more of a risk of side-effects? What are the side effects? The more information you have about different treatments, the better you can work with your doctor and your family to decide which treatment is best for you.

     

    Will surgery remove all the cancer? While a doctor can't give you any guarantees on the outcome of treatment, he can provide you with his insights into how successful surgery or other treatments will be.  You might also want to know about scarring from surgery, ask if there will be noticeable scars and how scarring can be minimized.

     

    How long will treatment last? Depending on the type of treatment you and your doctor decide is best, the length of treatment may be different. It may help to know how long the doctor expects you to undergo treatments.

  • Do I need to see a specialist? Your treatment may involve surgery or other treatments which must be completed by medical specialists. Talk with your doctor about the types of doctors who will be involved in your treatment so you are prepared and can contact your insurance company to find out what types of out-of-pocket expenses you should expect.

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    What is my risk of developing additional skin cancers? Your doctor should go over your risk factors, including family history and lifestyle, and help you find ways to reduce your risk of developing additional skin cancers. Merely Me previously wrote a post on questions to ask your doctor about preventing skin cancers and you can include those questions in your after-diagnosis discussion.

     

    What happens after treatment is completed? In order to prevent or reduce recurrences or additional cancers, work with your doctor to create a plan of action for when treatment is completed. How often should you be seen by your doctor to check for skin cancer? How can you do self-checks? What should you look for? When should you see your doctor for follow-up treatment and care?

     

    Are my family members at higher risk of developing skin cancer? Based on your family history, as well as your own cancer, your doctor can talk to you about whether family members are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer and what steps they can take to reduce their risk.

     

    The more information you have, the more actively involved you can be in your treatment. This helps not only physically but emotionally. Don't be afraid to ask these questions and be sure to speak up any time you don't understand something your doctor has said or if you need further clarification.

     

    References:

     

    "Questions to Ask My Doctor About Skin Cancer," reviewed 2011, April 28, American Cancer Society

     

    "Skin Cancer," Approved 2011, Jan, Staff Writer, Cancer.net

     

    "Types of Skin Cancer," Updated 2007, May 4, Author Unknown, University of California, San Francisco

     

Published On: December 07, 2011