Will My Skin Cancer Come Back?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • You have completed your skin cancer treatment and now must go back to living your life. Before your diagnosis, you probably didn’t give cancer too much thought. Now, it seems, you can’t go very long without thinking about cancer. You have lived through the scary moment when your doctor said the word “cancer.” Over the past days, weeks or months, you might have needed to adjust your daily schedule for treatment. If you needed radiation or chemotherapy, you might have lived with the side effects, putting your life on hold for a time.

    Once you have had cancer, your life isn’t the same. You think about cancer every day. You worry about your cancer returning. Even if it isn’t a conscious thought, there is a nagging in the back of your mind. If you feel a tinge on your skin, you worry that it might be cancer. If you see a mole, a spot or even a pimple, you worry that the cancer has returned. This is normal. Most people who recover from cancer, no matter what type of cancer, have concerns about the cancer returning.

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    What Are the Odds?

    There is no exact answer to how likely you are to having your cancer return. This often depends on you (everyone is different), the type of cancer you had and what treatment you received. While you are probably looking for a more definite answer, unfortunately there isn’t any way to know whether your cancer will return. For example, the chances of basal cell carcinoma returning, if you have had Moh’s surgery, are around one percent within five years of your original diagnosis. However, other types of treatment can increase your chances as can having red hair, being young when first diagnosed or having your basal cell carcinoma on your upper extremities. While it isn’t very satisfying, the simple answer is that, once you have had skin cancer, your risk is increased for having it return.

    Living With Uncertainty

    One of the most common fears of cancer survivors is “will my cancer come back?” In the days right after treatment has ended, you might find yourself obsessed with this thought. You might worry that you will miss the cancer and start performing skin self-checks on a daily basis. You might find it difficult to pay attention to other details in your life. Many people that have survived cancer say this fear is most prevalent in the first one to two years after treatment has ended and slowly begins to fade.

    The first step in dealing with your concerns is to talk to your doctor about the chances of your cancer recurring. Because there are many factors that can determine your chances of having cancer return, your doctor is the best person to discuss this with. He or she can also talk to you about what steps you can take to help prevent your skin cancer from returning or what you should do to make sure the cancer is identified and treated immediately.

    If you find you are having a difficult time dealing with the uncertainty, ask your doctor if there are support groups in your area. Talking to others who have been through the same experience can help.

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    Can You Prevent Recurrence?

    While it is important to take care of yourself - protect yourself from the UV rays of the sun, get exercise, eat right and go to all your follow-up appointments, there is no guarantee that this will prevent your skin cancer from returning. Skin cancer can return through no fault of your own.

    After treatment for skin cancer, you should do a regular self skin-check and let your doctor know if you notice a new mole or a mole that has changed in size, shape or color. You should also pay attention to any sores that don’t heal or dark, flaky patches of skin. If you notice any of these, you should contact your doctor immediately. While you might not be able to prevent skin cancer from returning, making sure it is detected and treated early is best.



    “Living with Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrance,” Revised 2013, June 19, Staff Writer, American Cancer Society

    “Melanoma: How it Returns, Where It Spreads,” 2010, Staff Writer, American Academy of Dermatology

    “Recurrence and Prevention,” Date Unknown, Reviewed by Perry Robins, Alfred W. Kopf, Ronald G. Wheeland, Skin Cancer Foundation

    “What You Need to Know About Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, National Cancer Institute

Published On: October 22, 2014