What To Do If You Receive A Skin Cancer Diagnosis
Once a skin biopsy confirms skin cancer, your doctor will recommend a treatment based on the stage of the cancer.
To improve your outlook, its important that you complete your treatment and schedule follow-up appointments as needed. Your doctor may want to see you every few months to make sure the cancer hasnt returned.
Also schedule annual skin exams with a dermatologist. Get into the habit of checking your own skin for abnormal growths, too. This includes your back, scalp, soles of feet, and ears.
You can also ask your doctor about local support groups for those with skin cancer, or search for support programs in your area.
Get To Know Your Skin
It is also a good idea to talk to your doctor about your level of risk and for advice on early detection.
Its important to get to know your skin and what is normal for you, so that you notice any changes. Skin cancers rarely hurt and are much more frequently seen than felt.
Develop a regular habit of checking your skin for new spots and changes to existing freckles or moles.
How Dangerous Is Melanoma Its All A Matter Of Timing
Skin cancer holds the unfortunate distinction of being the worlds most common cancer. Though its prevalence around the globe is disturbing, there is some good news: When caught early, skin cancers are almost always curable.
You might already know that catching a cancer early means a more favorable prognosis. But it can be difficult to comprehend just how big a difference early detection makes with melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Melanoma should never be underestimated, but treating a tumor early rather than after it is allowed to progress could be lifesaving.
Leland Fay, 46, understands better than most the seriousness of this distinction. When the Monument, Colorado native was diagnosed with melanoma in 2012, he was given a bleak prognosis due to the advanced stage of the tumor it had already reached stage IV.
Leland hadnt thought much of the little black mole on his head a few months earlier, when a dermatologist froze it off during a routine exam. But the mole resurfaced, bigger than it had been originally. After a biopsy and imaging tests, doctors told Leland it was melanoma, and that it had already spread. He could have as few as six weeks to live.
To fully comprehend the significance of timing, it can be helpful to understand exactly what happens to a melanoma when it advances to a later stage, and what it means when a melanoma spreads beyond the original tumor site.
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So How Much Of A Melanoma Can You Deliberately Pick Off
Well, if you go deep enough, says Dr. Schultz, you may in fact remove the entire thing, and if it was only a suspicious or abnormal, meaning precancerous mole, then that mole no longer has the ability to cause a melanoma, and the person has succeeded in permanently removing the threat of it becoming a melanoma.
However, this never validates picking at what you suspect is melanoma.
Advanced melanoma. Cancer.gov
The problem is that there is no way of knowing without examining the specimen with a microscope, whether its been removed completely.
And if it hasnt, then its even worse because the surface can heal , and the remaining abnormal mole continues to grow under the skin, explains Dr. Schultz.
And can turn into melanoma and remain undetected until it has invaded deep into the skin, which when it reaches blood or lymph vessels is how it spreads , which is what kills people.
The first sites that this cancer tends to spread to are the lungs and brain.
Five-year survival rate for this disease at stage IV is 15-20 percent
10-year survival rate is 10-15 percent.
Dr. Schultz continues, As a dermatologist who specializes in the early detection, prevention and treatment of skin cancer and especially abnormal moles and melanoma, when I examine patients and think a mole is suspicious, and I put in anesthesia and use my surgical skills to remove it, about 10 percent of the time even I dont remove the entire abnormal mole.
Where Else Does Melanoma Spread To
When melanoma advances to stage 3, it means the tumor has spread to the lymph nodes or the skin around the primary tumor and lymph nodes. In stage 4, the cancer has moved to other areas far beyond the lymph nodes, like your internal organs. The most common places melanoma spreads to are the:
- stomach, or abdomen
These growths will cause different symptoms, depending on which areas it has spread to. For example, you may feel breathless or constantly cough if the cancer has spread to your lungs. Or you may have a long-term headache that wont go away if it has spread to your brain. Sometimes the symptoms for stage 4 melanoma may not appear for many years after the original tumor was removed.
Talk to your doctor if youre feeling new pains and aches or symptoms. Theyll be able to help diagnose the cause and recommend treatment options.
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What Will Happen After Treatment
Youll be glad when treatment is over. For years after treatment, you will see your cancer doctor. Be sure to go to all of these follow-up visits. You will have exams, blood tests, and maybe other tests to see if the cancer has come back.
At first, your visits may be every few months. Then, the longer youre cancer-free, the less often the visits are needed. After 5 years, they may be done once a year.
Having cancer and dealing with treatment can be hard, but it can also be a time to look at your life in new ways. You might be thinking about how to improve your health. Call us at 1-800-227-2345 or talk to your cancer care team to find out what you can do to feel better.
You cant change the fact that you have cancer. What you can change is how you live the rest of your life making healthy choices and feeling as good as you can.
Ask Your Doctor For A Survivorship Care Plan
Talk with your doctor about developing a survivorship care plan for you. This plan might include:
- A suggested schedule for follow-up exams and tests
- A schedule for other tests you might need in the future, such as early detection tests for other types of cancer, or tests to look for long-term health effects from your cancer or its treatment
- A list of possible late- or long-term side effects from your treatment, including what to watch for and when you should contact your doctor
- Diet and physical activity suggestions
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Skin Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment
On skin cancer diagnosis, Dr. Truong says, To the untrained eye, skin cancer can mimic the appearance of natural irregularities or other common skin conditions. The deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma, may look like a mole, therefore, it is very important to note new growths or changing lesions, and to bring them to the attention of your dermatologist. A skin biopsy may be needed for a definitive diagnosis.
Once a patient receives a definitive skin cancer diagnosis, treatment planning begins. The treatment depends on the type of skin cancer, the size, location, and level of aggressiveness. The main methods of treatment include surgery, radiation, and light-based treatments.
Surgery is the most common and effective treatment for most skin cancers. Depending on the size, aggressiveness, and location of the skin cancer, a wide local excision or Mohs micrographic surgery may be recommended. Both surgeries are minimally invasive and usually done under local anesthesia. Mohs Micrographic Surgery is a specialized skin cancer surgery designed to remove skin cancers on sensitive areas such as the head and neck. The surgery removes skin cancer completely while preserving as much healthy skin as possible. The cancerous lesion is removed layer by layer, and the margins of each specimen are examined by your Mohs surgeon while you wait. Due to the on-site 100% margin evaluation, cure rates are superior and more healthy skin can be preserved, minimizing the scar.
Whats The Outlook For Stage 4 Melanoma
Once the cancer spreads, locating and treating the cancerous cells becomes more and more difficult. You and your doctor can develop a plan that balances your needs. The treatment should make you comfortable, but it should also seek to remove or slow cancer growth. The expected rate for deaths related to melanoma is 10,130 people per year. The outlook for stage 4 melanoma depends on how the cancer has spread. Its usually better if the cancer has only spread to distant parts of the skin and lymph nodes instead of other organs.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Melanoma That Has Spread
Melanoma that has spread from the skin to other areas of the body is known as metastatic melanoma. However, since melanoma often first presents itself as an abnormal mole, many people with this malignancy can receive a diagnosis before the cancer has spread. This mole may be asymmetrical, have an uneven border, have an inconsistent color, be large or change over time. A melanoma may also appear as a sore or itchy bump, a tender nodule or a patch of skin that is scaly or bleeding. In some cases, early signs of melanoma are not present. For example, if the cancer starts in a mucous membrane rather than on the skin, a mole may not be present.
Melanoma Can Be Colorless
While its true that many melanomas are dark brown to black in color, some melanomas have no color and appear as pink spots or bumps. Beware of isolated pink spots, especially if the spot looks different than the other marks on the skin, says Dr. Marghoob. Pay attention to any spot or mark that has an uneven texture, shape, border, or distribution of colors. In addition, any spot that has changed in some way should prompt a visit to your local doctor.
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What Is Metastatic Melanoma
Melanoma often spreads to:
Although in many cases metastatic melanoma canât be cured, treatments and support can help you live longer and better. Doctors have therapies that have greatly increased survival rates. And researchers are working to find new medications that can do even more.
Remember: You still have control over the decisions you make about your treatment and your life. It’s important to have people you can talk to about your plans, your fears, and your feelings. So find support and learn about your treatment options. That will help you make the most of your life.
When Should You Call Your Doctor
The most important warning sign for melanoma is a change in size, shape, or colour of a mole or other skin growth . Call your doctor if you have:
- Any change in a mole, including size, shape, colour, soreness, or pain.
- A bleeding mole.
- A discoloured area under a fingernail or toenail not caused by an injury.
- A general darkening of the skin unrelated to sun exposure.
if you have been diagnosed with melanoma and:
- You have trouble breathing or swallowing.
- You cough up or spit up blood.
- You have blood in your vomit or bowel movement.
- Your urine or bowel movement is black, and the blackness isn’t caused by taking iron or Pepto-Bismol.
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What Causes Melanoma
Normally, healthy new skin cells nudge older skin cells toward the surface, where they die.
DNA damage within the melanocytes can cause new skin cells to grow out of control. As the skin cells build up, they form a tumor.
Its not entirely clear why DNA in skin cells gets damaged. It may be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
The leading cause may be exposure to ultraviolet radiation. UV radiation can come from such sources as natural sunlight, tanning beds, and tanning lamps.
What Is A Melanocyte
Melanocytes are skin cells found in the upper layer of skin. They produce a pigment known as melanin, which gives skin its color. There are two types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. When skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds, it causes skin damage that triggers the melanocytes to produce more melanin, but only the eumelanin pigment attempts to protect the skin by causing the skin to darken or tan. Melanoma occurs when DNA damage from burning or tanning due to UV radiation triggers changes in the melanocytes, resulting in uncontrolled cellular growth.
Naturally darker-skinned people have more eumelanin and naturally fair-skinned people have more pheomelanin. While eumelanin has the ability to protect the skin from sun damage, pheomelanin does not. Thats why people with darker skin are at lower risk for developing melanoma than fair-skinned people who, due to lack of eumelanin, are more susceptible to sun damage, burning and skin cancer.
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How Long Does It Take To Remove Skin From Melanoma
If cancer cells are seen, the doctor removes another layer of skin. This is repeated until a layer shows no signs of cancer. This is a slow process, often taking several hours, but it means that more normal skin near the tumor can be saved, which can help the area look better after surgery.
Melanoma can return or spread after treatment. If this happens, its most likely to occur within the first 5 years. During the first 5 years, youll need thorough check-ups. You may have a check-up every 3 months in the beginning. You may also need to get chest x-rays, CT/PET scans, or MRIs. These can help find cancer that has returned or spread.
After getting the diagnosis, the next step is to get a complete skin exam and physical. During the physical, your dermatologist will feel your lymph nodes. This is where melanoma usually goes when it begins to spread.
Tests That Might Be Done
Biopsy: In a biopsy, the doctor takes out a small piece of tissue to check it for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only way to tell for sure if you have skin cancer and what kind it is. There are many types of skin biopsies. Ask your doctor what kind you will need. Each type has pros and cons. The choice of which type to use depends on your own case.
Lab tests of biopsy samples: If melanoma is found, lab tests might be done on the cancer cells to see if they have certain gene changes. This might affect your treatment options.
Chest x-ray: This test may be done to see if the melanoma has spread to your lungs.
Ultrasound: This test uses sound waves and their echoes to make pictures of the inside of your body. Ultrasound might be used to look at lymph nodes near the tumor to see if the cancer has spread there.
CT or CAT scan: This test uses x-rays to make detailed pictures of your insides. A CT scan may be used to see if nearby lymph nodes are swollen or if organs like the lungs or liver have spots that might be from the spread of melanoma. If any spots are found, a CT scan might be used to guide a needle into the spots to do a biopsy.
MRI scan: This test uses radio waves and strong magnets instead of x-rays to make detailed pictures of your insides. It’s very good for looking at the brain and spinal cord. This test can help show if the cancer has spread.
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What Happens When Skin Cancer Goes Untreated
If you notice an abnormality on your skin you may be tempted to ignore it. However, if it is skin cancer you could be putting your health at risk by waiting to get a skin and mole check. There are three main types of skin cancer in Australia with melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, and they each have their own set of unique characteristics. The most important thing to remember is that if you delay treatment of skin cancer it could have life threatening consequences:
Knowledge Is Your Best Defense
What Is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells in the epidermis, the outermost skin layer, caused by unrepaired DNA damage that triggers mutations. These mutations lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. The main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma , squamous cell carcinoma , melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma .
The two main causes of skin cancer are the suns harmful ultraviolet rays and the use of UV tanning beds. The good news is that if skin cancer is caught early, your dermatologist can treat it with little or no scarring and high odds of eliminating it entirely. Often, the doctor may even detect the growth at a precancerous stage, before it has become a full-blown skin cancer or penetrated below the surface of the skin.
Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70.
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