Follow-up after treatment for melanoma skin cancer
Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. Follow-up for melanoma skin cancer is often shared among specialists, such as the dermatologist, surgeon and oncologist, and your family doctor. Your healthcare team will work with you to decide on follow-up care to meet your needs.
Don’t wait until your next scheduled appointment to report any signs and symptoms that are new or don’t go away. Tell your healthcare team if you have:
- any new growths, moles or abnormal areas on your skin
- any new lump or swelling
- pain or an increase in pain
- a cough that doesn’t go away
The chance that melanoma skin cancer will come back (recur) is greatest within 5 years, so close follow-up is needed during this time. But since melanoma skin cancer can come back at any time, long-term follow-up is also important.
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Follow-up visits for melanoma skin cancer are usually scheduled every 3 to 12 months. It depends on the stage and risk that the cancer will come back. If you were treated for an advanced stage of melanoma skin cancer or have a high risk of recurrence, follow-up is usually done more often for the first 2 to 3 years.
Doctors usually suggest that people with a history of skin cancer have a skin exam at least once every year for the rest of their life.
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During a follow-up visit, your healthcare team will usually ask questions about the side effects of treatment and how you’re coping. They will also ask about any new signs or symptoms that concern you.
Your doctor will do a physical exam, including a skin exam, to check:
- the place where the cancer was removed or treated
- for abnormal areas on the skin on the rest of the body, especially areas that are exposed to the sun
- for enlarged lymph nodes close to where the cancer started
Your doctor may also teach you about:
Depending on any signs or symptoms you have or your risk that the cancer will come back, your doctor may also send you for imaging tests, such as a CT scan, an x-ray or an MRI, to check if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
If the cancer has come back, you and your healthcare team will discuss a plan for your treatment and care.
American Cancer Society. Melanoma Skin Cancer. 2015: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer-melanoma/.
American Society of Clinical Oncology . Melanoma . 2015 : https://www.cancer.net/.
Cancer Care Nova Scotia . Guidelines for the Management of Malignant Melanoma . 2013 : https://www.nshealth.ca/cancer-care.
Cancer Care Ontario. Evidence-Based Series Guideline 8-7 (Summary): Follow-up of Patients with Cutaneous Melanoma who were Treated with Curative Intent. 2015: https://www.cancercare.on.ca/common/pages/UserFile.aspx?fileId=352598.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Melanoma (Version 2.2016). 2016.
Princess Margaret Cancer Centre . Princess Margaret Cancer Centre Clinical Practice Guidelines: Melanoma . University Health Network ; 2015 : https://www.uhn.ca/PrincessMargaret/Health_Professionals/Programs_Departments/Pages/clinical_practice_guidelines.aspx.