Ask the Dermatologists
Follow-up care is essential after treatment for skin cancer, my dermatologist told me. My problem is that I do not remember much that my dermatologist said about follow-up care. I felt so distracted by my diagnosis that I could not concentrate. Will you please summarize?

Follow-up care is essential because skin cancer can return and new skin cancers can develop. Making follow-up care a part of your lifestyle will help reduce these possibilities.

If you forgot what your dermatologist said, call the office and ask for a written copy of your guidelines for follow-up care. Each patient has unique needs, so guidelines differ. As soon as you receive your guidelines, read them carefully. Should you have any questions, contact your dermatologist.

While you are waiting for your individualized guidelines, be sure to read these general guidelines that dermatologists recommend:

  1. Adopt a comprehensive sun-protection plan. Having had skin cancer, you have an increased risk of developing another skin cancer. Most skin cancer develops in skin badly damaged by the sunís ultraviolet (UV) rays. Protecting your skin from further damage can reduce this risk.

To protect the skin, dermatologists advise their skin-cancer patients to:

  • Wear sun-protective clothing. Before going outdoors, dermatologists recommend that their skin-cancer patients put on clothing that covers the legs, long sleeves, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat. The brim should encircle the entire hat and be wide enough to shade the face, back of the head, and neck.

    It is important that the clothing effectively block harmful UV rays. An easy way to find out how much sun protection clothing offers is to hold up the garment to a light or sun-filled window. If plenty of light passes through, the clothing does not offer adequate sun protection.
     

  • Generously apply sunscreen every day to all skin that is not covered by sun-protective clothing. Use sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection ó meaning that it protects against UVA and UVB rays. The sunscreen also should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before going outdoors. Be sure to apply it to all skin that will be exposed. Do not forget the ears, neck, and between the fingers. Sunscreen should be applied year round. Even on a cloudy day, 80% of the sunís UV rays pass through the clouds.
     

  • Avoid direct sun exposure. Dermatologists advise avoiding outdoor activities when the sunís rays are strongest ó between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

    If you must be outdoors, be sure to re-apply sunscreen approximately every 2 hours and after perspiring or swimming, wear sun-protective clothing, and seek shade as much as possible. It also is important to know that extra caution is needed near water, snow, and sand. These reflect the damaging rays of the sun.
     

  • Never use a tanning bed, sunlamp, or any other indoor tanning device. Research has found that tanning lamps emit UV rays that can be up to 15 times stronger than the sun.

  1. Learn how to perform a full-body self-exam of your skin. You probably learned how to perform this self-exam in your dermatologistís office. You will find an illustrated guide to the skin self-exam on this site at:

    Skin Examinations

    If you have any questions about this exam, be sure to ask your dermatologist.
     

  2. Perform full-body self-exams regularly. Performed regularly, the self-exam can help detect skin cancer in its earliest stage. This can be life saving. Skin cancer, including melanoma, averages a 95% cure rate with early detection and treatment.

    If you find a suspicious lesion, contact your dermatologist immediately.
     

  3. Have regular dermatologic check-ups. Patients often feel reluctant to schedule check-ups for fear that the doctor will find cancer. In reality, a check-up often eases a patientís mind. Imagine hearing that you are cancer free.

    If skin cancer does develop, early detection and treatment offer the highest cure rate.

    A check-up also allows you to ask about anything that concerns you. Do not be shy. If a lesion worries you or you have another concern, speak up. Questions often arise between visits. Be sure to write down your questions and concerns so that you can discuss these with your dermatologist during your next appointment.

These are the general guidelines for follow-up care. Your dermatologist should have given you slightly different guidelines due to how advanced your cancer was when treated, the treatment, and your medical history. It is important to speak with your dermatologist about your specific needs and make follow-up care an integral part of your life as a cancer survivor.


All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

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Page last updated 10/15/07

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