Sources of Support

Learning that you have skin cancer can change your life and the lives of those close to you. These changes can be hard to handle. It's normal for you, your family, and your friends to need help coping with the feelings that such a diagnosis can bring. Concerns about treatments and managing side effects, hospital stays, and medical bills are common. You may also worry about caring for your family, keeping your job, or continuing daily activities.

 

Here's where you can go for support: 

  • Doctors, nurses, and other members of your health care team can answer questions about treatment, working, or other activities.
  • Social workers, counselors, or members of the clergy can be helpful if you want to talk about your feelings or concerns. Often, social workers can suggest resources for financial aid, transportation, home care, or emotional support.
  • Support groups also can help. In these groups, people with skin cancer or their family members meet with other patients or their families to share what they have learned about coping with the disease and the effects of treatment. Groups may offer support in person, over the telephone, or on the Internet. You may want to talk with a member of your health care team about finding a support group.

 

 

NCI's Cancer Information Service at 1–800–4–CANCER (1–800–422–6237) and at LiveHelp can help you locate programs, services, and NCI publications. They can send you a list of organizations that offer services to people with cancer.

For tips on coping, you may want to read the NCI booklet Taking Time: Support for People With Cancer.

Support group Information: http://www.cancercare.org/

How to Check Your Skin

Your doctor or nurse may suggest that you do a regular skin self-exam to check for the development of a new skin cancer. The best time to do this exam is after a shower or bath. Check your skin in a room with plenty of light. Use a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror. It's best to begin by learning where your birthmarks, moles, and other marks are and their usual look and feel.

Check for anything new:

  • A new mole (that looks different from your other moles)
  • A new red or darker color flaky patch that may be a little raised
  • A new flesh-colored firm bump
  • A change in the size, shape, color, or feel of a mole
  • A sore that doesn't heal

 

 

 

 

 

Check yourself from head to toe:

  • Look at your face, neck, ears, and scalp. You may want to use a comb or a blow dryer to move your hair so that you can see better. You also may want to have a relative or friend check through your hair. It may be hard to check your scalp by yourself.
  • Look at the front and back of your body in the mirror. Then, raise your arms and look at your left and right sides.
  • Bend your elbows. Look carefully at your fingernails, palms, forearms (including the undersides), and upper arms.
  • Examine the back, front, and sides of your legs. Also look around your genital area and between your buttocks.
  • Sit and closely examine your feet, including your toenails, your soles, and the spaces between your toes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By checking your skin regularly, you'll learn what is normal for you. It may be helpful to record the dates of your skin exams and to write notes about the way your skin looks. If your doctor has taken photos of your skin, you can compare your skin to the photos to help check for changes. If you find anything unusual, see your doctor.

Prevention

People with skin cancer are at risk of developing another skin cancer. Limit your time in the sun and stay away from sunlamps and tanning booths. Keep in mind that getting a tan may increase your risk of developing another skin cancer.

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun:

 

  • Avoid outdoor activities during the middle of the day. The sun's rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. When you must be outdoors, seek shade when you can.
  • Protect yourself from the sun's rays reflected by sand, water, snow, ice, and pavement. The sun's rays can go through light clothing, windshields, windows, and clouds.
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants. Tightly woven fabrics are best.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim all around that shades your face, neck, and ears. Keep in mind that baseball caps and some sun visors protect only parts of your skin.
  • Wear sunglasses that absorb UV radiation to protect the skin around your eyes.
  • Use sunscreen lotions with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. (Some doctors will suggest using a lotion with an SPF of at least 30.) Apply the product's recommended amount to uncovered skin 30 minutes before going outside, and apply again every two hours or after swimming or sweating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunscreen lotions may help prevent some skin cancers. It's important to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen lotion that filters both UVB and UVA radiation. But you still need to avoid the sun during the middle of the day and wear clothing to protect your skin.

Follow-up Care

After treatment for skin cancer, you’ll need regular checkups (such as every 3 to 6 months for the first year or two). Your doctor will monitor your recovery and check for any new skin cancers. Regular checkups help ensure that any changes in your health are noted and treated if needed.

During a checkup, you’ll have a physical exam. People with melanoma may have x-rays, blood tests, and scans of the chest, liver, bones, and brain.

 

People who have had melanoma have an increased risk of developing a new melanoma, and people with basal or squamous cell skin cancers have a risk of developing another skin cancer of any type. It’s a good idea to get in a routine for checking your skin for new growths or other changes. Keep in mind that changes are not a sure sign of skin cancer. Still, you should tell your doctor about any changes right away. You’ll find a guide for checking your skin in the How To Check Your Skin section.

 

Follow your doctor’s advice about how to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer again.

 

You may find it helpful to read the NCI booklet Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment. You may also want to read the NCI fact sheet Follow-up Care After Cancer Treatment.

 

Taking Part in Cancer Research

Doctors all over the country are conducting many types of clinical trials (research studies in which people volunteer to take part). Clinical trials are designed to find out whether new treatments are safe and effective.

Doctors are trying to find better ways to care for people with skin cancer. They are studying many types of treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy, biological therapy, and combinations of treatment. For example, doctors are studying the use of a cancer treatment vaccine after surgery for people with advanced melanoma. For more information about cancer vaccines, you may want to read the NCI fact sheet Cancer Vaccines.

 

Even if the people in a trial do not benefit directly, they may still make an important contribution by helping doctors learn more about skin cancer and how to control it. Although clinical trials may pose some risks, doctors do all they can to protect their patients.

 

If you're interested in being part of a clinical trial, talk with your doctor. You may want to read the NCI booklet Taking Part in Cancer Treatment Research Studies. It describes how treatment studies are carried out and explains their possible benefits and risks.

 

NCI's Web site includes a section on clinical trials at http://www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials. It has general information about clinical trials as well as detailed information about specific ongoing studies of skin cancer. Information specialists at 1–800–4–CANCER (1–800–422–6237) and at LiveHelp can answer questions and provide information about clinical trials.

National Cancer Institute: What You Need To Know About™ Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers

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