Tips from a Skin Cancer Patient ~ Natalie Richardson, the Impatient Patient Speaks
So you were able to #GetSkinHelp and now you’ve been booked for an appointment, that’s great! A
Dermatologist can often spot a potential skin cancer (whether it be SCC – Squamous Cell Carcinoma, BCC – Basal Cell Carcinoma, Melanoma, or even a Merkel Cell Carcinoma) on sight or with their dermatoscope, or if they find a lesion particularly suspicious they will recommend a biopsy for pathological analysis.
The procedure to remove all of the above, as well as other suspect spots or pre-cancerous conditions, is typically fast and relatively painless. Usually a five-to-ten-minute appointment, with local anesthetic injected into the site and perhaps a stitch or two or some cauterizing with a silver nitrate stick, and that’s it. These few moments save lives.
There are a couple of methods of removing suspect lesions, namely, “shave biopsies” or “punch biopsies.” As the names may infer, one is a scalpel-slice of a mole or other lesion to remove it, hopefully leaving clear “margins” around the edge, and the other is used for often smaller or deeper problem areas with a hand-held device designed specifically for the task.
In both cases, the Physician will be aiming to remove, or excise, as much of the lesion as possible in order to prevent spread to surrounding areas by skin cancer cells that may be moving locally from the trouble spot to other areas of the body such as lymph nodes or even vital organs. Clear margins reduce the chance of recurrence, or the skin cancer coming back in the same area or nearby. This is especially important in a melanoma, but SCC and BCC can also metastasize in rare cases.
Every patient is given clear instructions on how to care for any biopsy wound they may incur, usually a
recommendation to keep the area clean and dry, perhaps apply an over-the-counter wound care ointment to help it heal. The Dermatologist may prescribe a plan which includes an antimetabolic or immune-responsemodifier cream, or an additional treatment such as photodynamic therapy. In some cases, further surgery is necessary to fully rid the area of cancer cells.
Occasionally a patient is diagnosed with skin cancer on the spot, which can make it difficult for them to
understand how to react or ask the necessary questions. If diagnosed with skin cancer, a patient should arm themselves with as much information as possible. They should make note of important dates such as their follow-up appointment(s), and when they should expect the pathology report to reach their family doctor (usually two to three weeks). Once their family doctor has the report they should schedule a visit with them as well, to discuss the details of the report and what their next steps should be. It is helpful to bring a pen and paper to jot down notes and additional questions.
With any diagnosis of melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancer there is a permanent medical history which follows a patient and should always be disclosed in future medical discussions. A patient should also be made aware of how often they will be monitored in future. Monthly skin self-exams are recommended for everyone, but especially for someone with skin cancer. In addition, the Dermatologist may prescribe a check-up in their office every six to twelve months. And when the Doctor asks a patient if they are concerned about any other areas on their body, they should by all means show the area and be involved in the discussion as to their skin health and needs for future care.