In my last post we discussed how skin cancer can return despite treatment. It is a worrisome thought for anyone who has been diagnosed with skin cancer to wonder if and when skin lesions will reappear. In this post we will give you some ways to decrease the odds of a recurrence. The first and best thing to do following your diagnosis of skin cancer is to talk with your doctor about which treatment options provide the greatest opportunity for removing all the cancer so that a recurrence is less likely. Your doctor will also be the best person to assess your overall risk for developing new skin cancers.
In the meantime here are some ways to decrease the odds for a recurrence and/or detect early signs of developing new lesions:
- Follow up skin examinations with your doctor or dermatologist, following treatment, is a critical component for the detection and prevention of developing new tumors. Your doctor will tell you how often you need to be seen based upon your particular risk factors and the type of skin cancer you have. The National Cancer Institute recommends that skin cancer patients having squamous cell carcinomas be re-examined every three months for the first several years and then followed indefinitely every six months due to this type of skin cancer's potential to metastasize.
- For basal cell carcinomas, re-growth is more likely with larger cancers as well as for facial lesions of the nose, eye, and ear. Patients diagnosed with these types of tumors have to be vigilant about checking the site after removal for any recurring lesions. Tumors can also develop out of the surgery scar or around the edges. A change in the appearance of the scar tissue or surrounding skin area can indicate a new skin cancer is forming.
- In addition to getting regular skin exams from your doctor, you will also want to check your body for any new growths, sores, or lesions. Here is information about how to perform a self skin exam.
- You always need to protect your skin from the sun but these areas where you have already developed skin cancer are especially vulnerable. You will need to seek shade from the sun during those peak hours from 10 AM and 4PM. Sunscreen has to be a part of your daily routine when you go outside even on cloudy days. The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests that you use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and apply one ounce of your sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. You will need to reapply every two hours especially if you are swimming.
- It seems like common sense but please don't use a tanning bed especially if you have already been diagnosed with skin cancer. The risk of developing new skin cancer is especially high for those who use tanning beds.
- Wear protective clothing and a wide brimmed hat to shield your skin from harmful rays. For more details of how to find the most protective clothing and head gear please read my article, "Five Easy Ways to Protect Your Skin from Skin Cancer."
- You may want to ask your doctor about which of your medications may be causing you to be more photosensitive to the sun and subsequently more at risk for developing new skin cancers. Certain medications and/or supplements can increase our sensitivity to the sun causing us to burn faster and incur sun damage. Some of these medications and supplements may include things like St. John's Wort, Tetracyclines, as well as some topical skin cancer medications such as Efudex and Carac.
Although there is no guarantee that you can prevent a recurrence of your skin cancer, it certainly is worth the effort to recognize the signs of re-growth and to also protect your skin from any further damage. For more skin cancer prevention strategies please visit our Skin Cancer Prevention Guide.