Doctors use a variety of techniques to determine the stage of melanoma, according the American Cancer Society. First, they do a physical exam, noting the size, shape, and color of the lesion. They might use a magnifying lens to see the lesion more clearly. They will check your lymph nodes to see if they are enlarged. They will send a sample to a lab for a biopsy for additional information. All of the results together help a doctor determine the stage of your melanoma.
You are always able to get a second opinion. If your doctor isn’t associated with a large cancer center, that might be a good place to seek a second opinion. Your doctor can also recommend melanoma specialists for a second opinion. Seeing a second doctor can help you better understand your diagnosis and your treatment options.
Sometimes cancer can be removed completely with surgery. Sometimes additional treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy, are needed to make sure that any cancer cells left do not spread to other parts of the body. Your doctor will talk to you about surgery and the chances of removing all of it. He will also discuss other options that might be recommended in addition to or in place of surgery, such as immunotherapy or targeted therapy.
Throughout your treatment, your doctor will schedule follow-up tests, such as imaging scans and blood tests, to monitor your cancer. These will be compared to your original results to determine if your cancer is shrinking or is gone.
Some surgeries for melanoma do leave a scar. Moh’s surgery, where the surgeon removes one layer of the cancer at a time until no cancer is detected, is less likely to leave a scar than excisional surgery; however, this type of surgery is not always the best option for melanoma. If scarring will be extensive, your doctor can refer you to a plastic surgeon for reconstructive surgery. The amount of scarring will depend on the size and stage of your cancer.
How long you need treatment is based on the stage of your cancer and how far it has spread. For example, chemotherapy for melanoma is given in cycles with each cycle lasting a few weeks, according to the American Cancer Society. Your doctor will continue to monitor your cancer to determine how long treatment should continue.
Follow-up care after melanoma is extremely important. People who have had melanoma are at a high risk of developing melanoma again. In an interview, Jeffrey S. Weber, M.D., says that “follow-up visits to an oncologist or specialized dermatologist should occur every three months for a minimum of five years.” After that, you should see your dermatologist, at a minimum, once a year.
Some cancer treatments can affect fertility. If you are planning on having children in the future, you should discuss this with your doctor and ask about the effect on fertility for different treatment methods.
Complementary treatments can include spiritual or emotional counseling, nutrition, vitamins, and herbal supplements. Some, such as counseling, can help you better cope with your diagnosis and treatment. Others, such as vitamins and herbal supplements, should be discussed with your doctor, as they may interfere with your treatment according to the National Cancer Institute.