Melanoma Introduction (cont.)

What about followup care after treatment for melanoma?

Melanoma patients have a high risk of developing new melanomas. Some also are at risk of a recurrence of the original melanoma in nearby skin or in other parts of the body.

To increase the chance of detecting a new or recurrent melanoma as early as possible, patients should follow their doctor's schedule for regular checkups. It is especially important for patients who have dysplastic nevi and a family history of melanoma to have frequent checkups. Patients also should examine their skin monthly (keeping in mind the "ABCD" guidelines in the "Signs and Symptoms" section, and the skin self-exam described in "How To Do a Skin Self-Exam"). They should follow their doctor's advice about how to reduce their chance of developing another melanoma. General information about reducing the risk of melanoma is described in the "Melanoma: Who's at Risk?" section.

The chance of recurrence is greater for patients whose melanoma was thick or had spread to nearby tissue than for patients with very thin melanomas. Followup care for those who have a high risk of recurrence may include x-rays, blood tests, and scans of the chest, liver, bones, and brain.

A person who has been treated for melanoma may want to ask the doctor the following questions:
  • How often should I have checkups?


  • What special precautions should I take to avoid sun exposure?


  • Are my family members at risk of melanoma? Should they schedule an appointment with their doctor for an examination?

Are there support groups for people with melanoma?

Living with a serious disease such as melanoma is not easy. Some people find they need help coping with the emotional and practical aspects of their disease. Support groups can help. In these groups, patients or their family members get together to share what they have learned about coping with the disease and the effects of treatment. Patients may want to talk with a member of their health care team about finding a support group. Groups may offer support in person, over the telephone, or on the Internet.

People living with melanoma may worry about caring for their families, keeping their jobs, or continuing daily activities. Concerns about treatments and managing side effects, hospital stays, and medical bills also are common. Doctors, nurses, and other members of the health care team can answer questions about treatment, working, or other activities. Meeting with a social worker, counselor, or member of the clergy can be helpful to those who want to talk about their feelings or discuss their concerns. Often, a social worker can suggest resources for financial aid, transportation, home care, or emotional support.

The Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER can send publications and provide information to help patients and their families locate programs and services.

The promise of cancer research

Doctors all over the country are conducting many types of clinical trials. These are research studies in which people take part voluntarily. Studies include new ways to treat melanomas. Research already has led to advances, and researchers continue to search for more effective approaches.

Patients who join these studies have the first chance to benefit from treatments that have shown promise in earlier research. They also make an important contribution to medical science by helping doctors learn more about the disease. Although clinical trials may pose some risks, researchers take very careful steps to protect their patients.

Researchers are testing new anticancer drugs. They are looking at combining chemotherapy with radiation therapy. Other studies are combining chemotherapy with biological therapy. Scientists also are studying several cancer vaccines and a type of gene therapy designed to help the immune system kill cancer cells.

Patients who are interested in being part of a clinical trial should talk with their doctor. NCI's Web site includes a section on clinical trials at http://www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials. This section of the Web site provides general information about clinical trials. It also offers detailed information about ongoing studies of melanoma treatment by linking to PDQ®, a cancer information database developed by the NCI. The Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER can answer questions and provide information from the PDQ database.