FAQ: What Kind of Follow-up Should I Have After Treatment for Skin Cancer?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 17, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

What kind of follow-up should I have after treatment for skin cancer?

Expert Answers

Dr. Leslie Kernisan is a senior medical editor at Caring.com and a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics. She also provides housecalls and geriatric consultations in San Francisco.

If you've been treated for skin cancer, you should have regular follow-up visits with your doctor to make sure that the cancer hasn't started to grow again at the same site. This follow-up, known as "surveillance," is especially important if the original tumor was a melanoma, which can be particularly dangerous if it recurs.

The optimal interval for surveillance isn't known for sure, but most experts recommend an annual history and physical examination, with special attention to the skin and lymph nodes. Regular X-rays and CT scans haven't been proven to be of benefit in surveillance, although some doctors do order them.

For people diagnosed with melanoma or another skin cancer that had spread to lymph nodes, recurrence is unfortunately common: 30 to 80 percent of Stage III melanomas eventually recur, often in a new location. For this reason, it's important that people with a history of Stage III melanoma be vigilant and promptly report any new health symptoms to a doctor.

All persons with a history of skin cancer should also know that they're at higher risk of developing a second skin cancer in another location -- another reason to not skip the annual skin exam.