9 Things Melanoma Survivors Should Know

Health Writer
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When your melanoma treatment is over, you might have mixed feelings. You are certainly excited that it is finally finished, but you might also feel anxious. You don’t know what to expect now, and you might worry that your cancer will return. Read on to find out what you need to know as a melanoma survivor.


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Keep your follow-up visits with your dermatologist

People who have had melanoma are at high risk of having the cancer return or of developing new melanoma, according to the American Cancer Society. It’s important to keep follow-up appointments with your doctor and continue to do self-skin checks. As with the original tumor, the prognosis for recurring and new melanoma is based on the stage the cancer is identified and treated.


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Early detection and treatment are still important

Early detection is important. When skin cancer is identified and treated early, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Once it spreads to the lymph nodes, the survival rate decreases to 62 percent. If it spreads to other parts of the body, the survival rate goes down to 18 percent. This is true for recurring and new cancers.


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What is the typical follow-up schedule?

Usually, people who were diagnosed with early-stage melanoma should follow up with their doctor every six to 12 months for several years. More advanced stages might follow up every 3-6 months at first and less often as time goes on. For those whose cancer spread to their lymph nodes, the recommended follow-up visits are generally monthly, according to American Cancer Society. Your doctor will discuss a follow-up schedule with you based on your personal circumstances.


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Recurrent melanoma

When your cancer comes back, it can occur at the same site of the original tumor or in another part of the body. It can occur as many as 10 years after the first occurrence, according to the Aim at Melanoma Foundation.


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The risk of recurrent melanoma

Characteristics of your original tumor, including thickness of the tumor, whether there was ulceration, and whether there were satellite metastases surrounding the primary melanoma can increase your risk of having your cancer recur, according to Aim at Melanoma Foundation.


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New melanoma

Having had melanoma doesn’t protect you from having a new melanoma develop. Be vigilant with self-skin checks and follow-up visits with your dermatologist so you can have any new spots, bumps, or lesions evaluated immediately. There aren’t currently any answers as to what, if anything, you can do to prevent further cancers. Even so, the American Cancer Society suggests limiting UV rays, doing self-checks, and engaging in healthy behaviors such as eating well, being active, and not smoking.


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Side effects can linger

Side effects from treatments may last a long time or might not show up for years afterward, according to the American Cancer Society. Talk to your doctor about any questions you have. Keep track of any health problems or unexplained symptoms you experience.


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Keep copies of your medical records

It’s important to keep copies of your medical records as a melanoma survivor. This is especially key if you have more than one doctor or specialist. Make sure all of your records are in one place. In the future, you may need or want to change doctors (for example, you might move to a different area or your doctor might move or retire), and when you have a copy of your medical records at the ready, your new doctor will be better able to take over your care immediately.


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Sunscreen is not enough

You need to protect your skin from UV rays. It’s a great idea to wear sunscreen every day, but sunscreen is just one part of your protection. Be sure to seek shade or stay indoors between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. When outside, wear a wide-brimmed hat and lightweight clothing that covers your arms and legs.


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The bottom line

Being vigilant about your health, even after your melanoma treatment is over, is key. Follow these tips to stay on top of your health as a melanoma survivor. And remember: If you have any concerns about side effects or potential recurrences or new melanoma, talk with your doctor as soon as possible.