What to do once you have had skin cancer
Once you have had some form of skin cancer the follow-up is almost as important as the treatment itself.
Objectives of the follow-up are:
- to spot reoccuring tumors
- to recognize diseases that are related to the cancer or treatment
- to help patients with psychological, physical and social
The aim of any skin cancer therapy is to eliminate the tumor completely. But there is always a chance that a tiny remainder of the tumor is still there and may develop into a new skin cancer. Therefore you should take follow-up appointments arranged by you and your doctor seriously. Always bear in mind that the earlier you discover skin cancer, the better your chances for a cure.
Another central point of the follow-up should be a discussion of any side effects you have to cope with. Tell your doctor how you feel, what concerns and problems you have. You and your doctor should work out a follow-up schedule to keep track of the healing process or to make sure there are no relapses.
Sometimes the return to everyday life is not easy and you should take and accept all the help you can get: from your family, your friends, your colleagues, your doctor. A good opportunity to learn to live with cancer is to seek an exchange of experiences with people who suffer from the same disease. Maybe you wish to start working again. Talk about it with your doctor. He or she will support you since it may be beneficial for your cure.
Some patients feel the urge to radically change their lives and habits. Now you know you are especially at risk of contracting skin cancer. Of course it makes sense to change your attitude towards the sun. So be very careful in exposing yourself to sunlight. Use broadspectrum sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15 or even higher whenever you go outside sun or rain, stay out of the midday sun, seek shade and wear tightly woven long-sleeved shirts and trousers. You do not have to turn into a mole. Enjoy your time outdoors.
Follow-Up of SCC
The follow-up period for SCC is usually at least five years. The frequency of appointments depends among other things on the severity of the skin cancer and can be quarterly, bi-annually or annually.
Follow-Up of BCC
Because of the incidence of relapse the follow-up period should not be terminated. The frequency of appointments depends on the individual case. In most cases annual follow-ups are adequate. In any case you should talk to your doctor.
Follow-Up of Melanoma
The follow-up for melanoma is of special importance since cure and survival rates depend greatly on early detection of relapses or metastases. Therefore the frequency of appointments is usually quarterly or bi-annually, depending on the individual case. To be on the safe side, even more frequent appointments may be sensible. If you have had a long tumor-free period, an annual visit may be adequate. For the best follow-up care you should discuss an appointment schedule with your doctor.
Follow-Up of AK
Since actinic keratosis carries the risk of turning into a squamous cell carcinoma, you should perform self examinations on a regular basis. If you are a high-risk patient (light skin, live in an area with high UV radiation, had high dose of sunlight earlier in life, etc.) you should also schedule a bi-annual or annual professional skin examination with your dermatologist.