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 accept this uncertainty and are living full lives. Our document Living With Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence has more on this.
For a small number of people with more advanced skin cancers, the cancer 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 doesn’t go away can be hard and very stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty. When Cancer Doesn’t Go Away covers more about this.
If you have finished treatment, your doctors will still want to watch you closely
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.
Your doctor will likely suggest that you check your skin at least once a month. This includes looking for any changes where the cancer was treated, as well as looking for any new areas of concern in other places.
It’s also very important to protect yourself from getting too much sun, which can raise your risk of new skin cancers.
Your plan for follow-up doctor visits will depend on the type of skin cancer you had and on other factors.
During your visits, your doctor will ask about symptoms and check you 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.
Follow-up is also needed to check for possible side effects of certain treatments. This is the time for you to ask your cancer care team questions and to discuss any concerns you might have.
Seeing a new doctor
At some point after your treatment, you may be seeing a new doctor. It’s important to 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
- The names and contact information of the doctors who treated your cancer
It’s also very 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 Revised: 02/01/2016