Living With Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is highly treatable when found early. However, even after a successful surgery, living with skin cancer in your medical history should include measures to protect your skin, help prevent recurrence of skin cancer and find new lesions early if they develop.

After Skin Cancer Treatment: Risk of Recurrence

A personal history of a skin cancer increases the risk for developing another lesion. Skin cancer affecting certain areas of the body is particularly prone to recurrence. For example, squamous cell carcinoma on the nose, ears and lips may return after skin cancer surgery. In addition, recurrence is more likely with an advanced-stage initial lesion.

Risk of recurrence is further increased when you have certain skin cancer risk factors, such as:

  • Atypical mole syndrome
  • Fair or light skin color
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • History of sunburn.

In the event of recurrence, your doctor may recommend a different method of skin cancer removal. Mohs micrographic surgery can be particularly effective for these cases. In this procedure, affected skin is removed one layer at a time until all traces of cancer are gone.

Post-Surgical Care

After surgery or other skin cancer treatment, your doctor will provide you with specific wound care instructions. After skin cancer treatment via dermabrasion, electrodessication and curettage, or topical chemotherapy agents, skin is sensitive. It must be protected from sun exposure during the healing process to prevent further skin damage, including formation of scar tissue.

Sun Protection after Skin Cancer Removal

If you have been treated for melanoma, basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, be sure to protect your skin from the sun. This will help you to avoid further damage that might increase your risk of developing another lesion.

Skin Cancer Self-Checks

If you have been treated for any type of skin cancer, your risk of another lesion is increased. It is important to have regular skin checks by a dermatologist, and to perform self-exams of your skin. The American Cancer Society recommends monthly self-exams of the skin covering every part of your body. Look for changes to existing moles, or abnormal new growths, and report these changes to your doctor for further examination.

Living With Skin Cancer: Palliative Care

In advanced cases of skin cancer, palliative care may be appropriate. These treatment methods focus on relieving pain and improving quality of life. For example, anti-nausea drugs may be given to combat the side effects of chemotherapy.

Though palliative care may be needed in advanced stages of skin cancer (once it has spread to the lymph nodes or metastasized to distant organs), palliative care is not needed in most cases of skin cancer. Rather, direct treatment, such as surgery, can be highly effective when a lesion is found early.

Resources

American Cancer Society. (2010). Skin cancer prevention and early detection. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003184-pdf.pdf

American Academy of Dermatology. (2010). Treating nonmelanoma skin cancer. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from Skin Cancer Net Website: http://www.skincarephysicians.com/skincancernet/treating_nonmelanoma.html

Melanoma Center. (2010). If melanoma recurs. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from http://www.melanomacenter.org/life/recurs.html

The Skin Cancer Foundation. (2010). Squamous cell carcinoma: The second most common skin cancer. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from http://www.skincancer.org/squamous-cell-carcinoma.html

The Skin Cancer Foundation. (2010). Basal cell carcinoma: The most common skin cancer. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from http://www.skincancer.org/basal-cell-carcinoma.html