Life After Melanoma: What Survivors Should Know

Skin Cancer over Life After Melanoma: What Survivors Should Know Photo When it comes to skin cancer, melanoma is the most frightening diagnosis you can get. The most deadly form of skin cancer, it can affect people of any age, race or sex. Last year, the American Cancer Society estimated than more than 76,000 new melanomas would be diagnosed, and more than 10,000 people would die of melanoma.

Though the numbers are sobering, the vast majority of people do survive melanoma. Survival rates vary based on the stage of melanoma diagnosed from a 10-year survival rate of 95 percent for Stage 1A to 24 percent for stage IIIC. The American Cancer Institute warns, however, that survival rates can be misleading in that many people live longer than 10 years, and some die of causes other than cancer. These rates are only estimates, not a prediction of what will happen to any one person.

The good news is that there are more treatments today than ever to eliminate the cancer, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Once a patient’s treatment has ended and the cancer removed, however, they may be left with many questions about what they should and shouldn’t do going forward. Here are some guidelines.

Prevention

While those who have previously had melanoma are unfortunately more likely to have a recurrence of melanoma — a 4 percent to 8 percent lifetime risk — there are steps that may reduce that risk. The obvious, of course, is to limit exposure to the sun and avoid tanning beds. Survivors should avoid spending much time in the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when UV rays are the strongest, wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and wear protective clothing, including hats and sunglasses at all times.

The American Cancer Society says other things that may help include eating a healthy diet, exercising and not smoking. While none of these healthy habits has been proven to directly reduce the risk of melanoma, they can only help one’s overall health and help prevent secondary cancers.

As for supplements, there has been some research that indicates a vitamin called nicotinamide may cut the risk of skin cancer. More research is needed, however, and individuals should check with their doctor before taking any supplements.

Detection

The frequency and types of follow-up one needs after melanoma treatment ends will vary depending on the individual case and will likely be outlined in a patient’s survivorship care plan. In general, doctors typically like to see patients regularly for a few years with the time between visits increasing with normal check-ups. The National Comprehensive Cancer Networks recommends yearly exams for life regardless of the stage melanoma one had.

Doctors also recommend patients do monthly self checks of their skin, particularly looking for any abnormal lumps on the skin and in the lymph nodes near where the melanoma was and report any new symptoms that don’t go away. The Skin Cancer Foundation has an illustrated step-by-step self examination that can help.

For more information on surviving melanoma, visit the American Cancer Society.