Metastatic Melanoma Follow-Up Care Is Importantby Eileen Bailey Health Writer
Once you've completed treatment for metastatic melanoma, it's important for you to plan your follow-up care. Your doctor will work with you to determine what type of care you should continue to have and how often you will need to see your doctors. Follow-up care should be tailored to each person; however, there are some guidelines you can follow. Talk to your doctor about what your survivorship care plan should include.
Risk of Melanoma Recurrence
People who have had melanoma before, even when it's been cured, have a high risk of getting it again. Unfortunately, you're not in the clear after a few years. You may see a recurrence up to 10 years after your initial treatment. Follow-up care, therefore, is very important in identifying and treating any recurrences before they spread to other areas of your body.
Regular Skin Checks
Everyone with metastatic melanoma should have regular skin and lymph node exams. People with melanoma spreading beyond the skin should get an exam every three to six months for the first two years after treatment, then every three to 12 months for the third, then annually thereafter, according to a global review of melanoma guidelines in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.
In addition to skin exams, guidelines suggest imaging scans, including chest x-ray, computed tomography (CT), and/or positron emission tomography (PET) every three to 12 months, according to the same review in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Ask your doctor if these might be worthwhile in your case. A brain MRI on an annual basis may also be helpful. An oncologist may discuss any symptoms you may be experiencing and the role of these imaging studies in your follow-up care.
While regular visits to your dermatologist or oncologist should become part of your routine, self-examination is just as important, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends you complete a head-to-toe check once a month to note any new or changing spots or lesions.
Screening for Other Cancers
Survivors of melanoma have a higher risk of developing other types of cancer, according to The American Cancer Society. These include another skin cancer, breast cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and cancers of the prostate, kidney, thyroid, small intestine, salivary gland, or soft tissue. Talk to your doctor about how often you should be screened for other types of cancer. Some doctors don't recommend it unless you have symptoms.
Long-term Side Effects
Some treatments, including the immunotherapy medication ipilimumab (Yervoy), can cause side effects even after you have completed treatment. These can include problems with skin, hormonal glands, colitis, and hepatitis. If you've received immunotherapy for metastatic melanoma, be sure to discuss possible late or long-term side effects with your doctor, and how your follow-up care will address them.
Prevention Through Diet
Although there is some debate on whether diet can reduce your risk of cancer, one study found that a some foods may have an anticancer effect toward melanoma. These include grape seed extract; green tea; herbs such as rosemary, oregano, basil, and marjoram; tomatoes and other red fruits; and figs.
Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle
While the jury is still out on whether a healthy lifestyle can help prevent further cancers, it's known that eating right, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking are important to health and vital to improving your overall well-being. Whether you're a melanoma survivor or not, cleaning up your diet and stubbing out the butts are never a bad thing!
Continue With Sun Protection
Because people with melanoma are more likely to develop another skin cancer, including additional melanomas, it's crucial to be super diligent about UV protection. You'll want to limit your exposure to UV rays, use sunscreen year round and wear protective clothing, including wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses (make 'em your signature look!).