Steps to Take After a Melanoma Diagnosis?
Being diagnosed with melanoma is scary and stressful but you need to know how to proceed to get the best treatment possible. Here are the steps you should take after a melanoma diagnosis.
Have you discovered that you have melanoma? If so, you are probably dealing with a lot of different emotions during this life-changing time in your life.
You are not alone. Melanoma is one of the least common forms of skin cancer, but it is the most deadly. Studies from the Skin Care Foundation show that in the past decade, the number of new melanoma cases diagnosed annually has increased by 53%.
Hopefully, your doctor or dermatologist have given you all the information you need to know. Having melanoma is scary and stressful, but having the knowledge of how to proceed can provide some comfort.
Read on to learn about the steps you should take after a melanoma diagnosis.
So what is melanoma?
Melanoma is also known as malignant melanoma. It is a type of skin cancer that occurs in melanocytes. Melanocytes are the cells in the skin that produce the pigment melanin.
Melanocytes are usually found in the skin. They are also found in the bowel, eyes, and other areas of the body. However, the risk of melanoma in these areas is low. Almost all melanoma diagnosis occur on the skin.
Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun causes melanoma of the skin. The cancer can form when there is not an appropriate amount of skin pigmentation. Melanoma is almost always preventable.
Step One: Skin Exam and Physical
If you have already had a melanoma diagnosis, then it means that you have already had a skin biopsy. Currently, a skin biopsy is the only way for a doctor to check for skin cancer.
After getting your diagnosis, the first step is to get a complete skin exam and physical. During this exam, your doctor or dermatologist will first check your lymph nodes. The lymph nodes are where melanoma usually begins to spread.
After the exam and physical, your doctor may recommend additional testing, such as an MRI or a blood test. These tests help detect the spread of melanoma.
Step Two: Determining the Stage
The next step after getting a full skin exam and physical is to determine the stage of your melanoma. Your dermatologist will use the information gathered from the exam, physical, and biopsy to determine the stage.
The following is a basic table about the different stages. Each stage can have sub-stages within them. Your dermatologist can provide you more information about your individual stage.
The lowest stage of melanoma. Stage 0 means that the cancer is only present in the outer layers, or epidermis, of the skin. Treatment during this stage almost always cures the patient completely.
Stage 1 means that melanoma is found in the epidermis and possibly the upper part of the inner layers, or the dermis. Full recovery from treatment during this stage is possible.
In stage 2, melanoma is found in both the epidermis and the lower layers of the dermis. The likelihood of recovery through treatment is still possible.
Stage 3 means that the melanoma cells have spread beyond the skin and are in the lymph nodes. Treatment will be aggressive.
Stage 4 means that the melanoma has spread beyond the lymph nodes to other parts of the body. Treatment will be aggressive with survival rates as low as 15%.
Step Three: Treatment
The goal of treatment no matter what stage of melanoma you have is to remove all the cancerous cells. Studies from ASCO show that the 5-year survival percentage is 92%. While every patient’s treatment plan will be different depending on their stage of melanoma, below are common treatment options:
If you detect melanoma in the early stages, surgery may be the only treatment needed. A dermatologist can usually perform this surgery during an office visit.
During the surgery, your dermatologist will remove any tumor and extra skin around the cancerous site. In the early stages, surgery often times can cure melanoma, leading to a full cancer-free recovery.
Because melanoma can spread quickly, most treatment plans include medication. When the melanoma is widespread, treatment may first begin with medication and then surgery. The medication shrinks the tumor before surgery.
After surgery, doctors might prescribe more medication or treatments to kill any remaining melanoma cells.
Lymph Node Biopsy
If your melanoma is in more advanced stages, surgery becomes complex. If it is likely that melanoma has spread to your lymph nodes, then a surgeon may remove the infected lymph node.
The process of removing this lymph node is a sentinel lymph node biopsy. This type of surgery must be performed in a hospital, and you will receive anesthesia.
If your melanoma is widely advanced and has spread in your body, there are some aggressive advanced treatment options. It may be one of the treatment options from above coupled with additional treatments. Some of these treatments may include:
- Radiation therapy
Step Four: Lifelong Follow Up
After you finish your treatment, your dermatologist will want to see you regularly. This is because melanoma can return or spread even after treatment. If this happens, it’s most likely to occur within the first 5 years after your treatment.
Your doctor will also teach you how to give yourself skin self-exams. You will learn how to distinguish if a growth is a skin tag or if it is a sign of cancer. Make sure that you are administering these self-exams for life.
Because those diagnosed with melanoma have a higher risk of recurrence, your dermatologist will want to see you for regular check-ups. Having an exam done by a professional for the rest of your life will ensure that if it does come back, you will be able to catch it at an early stage.
You know your skin better than anyone else. If you notice any changes, it is imperative that you alert your dermatologist right away.
For those who have sustained skin lesions or scarring from their surgery, plastic surgery may be an option you would like to explore. Clinics such as Simmons Plastic Surgery can help you treat the cancerous area but also reconstruct any skin deformities that happened during your cancer treatment.
Now You Know What to do After Your Melanoma Diagnosis
Now that you know the steps to take after your melanoma diagnosis, it is vital that you are vigilant with putting these steps into action.
Discovering that you have cancer is a terrifying and stressful thing. However, making sure that you are taking the necessary steps for treatment may lead you to full recovery.
Check us out for more information on more lifestyle tips on how you can take care of yourself.