Moving on after treatment for basal and squamous skin cell cancer
For most people with basal or squamous cell skin cancers, treatment will remove or destroy the cancer. Completing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You may be relieved to finish treatment, but find it hard not to worry about cancer growing or coming back. (When cancer comes back after treatment, it is called a recurrence.) This is a very common concern in people who have had cancer.
It may take a while before your fears lessen. But it may help to know that many cancer survivors have learned to live with this uncertainty and are leading full lives. Our document Living With Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence gives more details on this.
For small number of people with more advanced cancers, it may never go away completely. These people may get regular treatment with radiation, chemo, or other treatments to try to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be hard and very stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty. Our document When Cancer Doesn’t Go Away talks more about this.
If you have finished treatment, your doctor will likely suggest that you check your skin once a month. Family members and friends can also be asked to watch for new skin changes in areas that are hard for you to see.
If skin cancer does come back, it will most likely happen in the first 5 years after treatment. A person who has had skin cancer is at higher risk for getting another one in a different place, so close follow-up is important. It’s also very important to protect yourself from getting too much sun, which can raise your risk of new skin cancers.
You should have follow-up exams as advised by your doctor. Your plan for follow-up visits will depend on the type of cancer you had and on other factors.
- For basal cell cancers, visits are often needed about every 6 to 12 months.
- For squamous cell cancers, visits are usually more frequent – often every 3 to 6 months for the first few years, followed by longer times between visits.
During your visits, your doctor will ask about symptoms and do a physical exam to look for signs of the cancer coming back or a new skin cancer. For higher risk cancers, such as those that had reached the lymph nodes, the doctor may also do tests like CT scans.
If skin cancer does recur, treatment options depend on the size and location of the cancer, what treatments you’ve had before, and your overall health.
Follow-up is also needed to check for possible side effects of certain treatments. This is the time for you to ask your health care team any questions and to discuss any concerns you might have.
Seeing a new doctor
At some point after your cancer is found and treated, you may find yourself in the office of a new doctor. It’s important that you be able to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment. Gathering these details during and soon after treatment may be easier than trying to get them at some point in the future. Make sure you have this information handy, and always keep copies for yourself:
- A copy of your pathology report from any biopsy or surgery
- If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report
- If you stayed in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that the doctor wrote when you were sent home
- If you had radiation treatment, a summary of the type and dose of radiation and when and where it was given
- If you had chemo or other drug treatments, a list of your drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
It’s also important to keep your health insurance. Tests and doctor visits cost a lot, and even though no one wants to think of their cancer coming back, this could happen.
Last Medical Review: 02/24/2014
Last Revised: 02/24/2014