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Follow up for melanoma

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This page tells you about follow up after treatment for melanoma skin cancer. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Follow up for melanoma

After your treatment you may need to have regular check ups. How much follow up you have will depend on the stage of your primary melanoma.

Early melanoma

If you had a very early melanoma that was just in the surface layer of skin (in situ melanoma) you will be asked to go back to the hospital to check the results of your surgery and make sure the operation site is healing up well. Your doctor or specialist nurse will show you how to check your skin. Then you don't need any further follow up. 

If you had a melanoma that was just in the upper layer of skin (stage 1A melanoma) you will have check ups 2 to 4 times over a year. Then your doctor will discharge you.

Stage 2 and 3 melanoma

If your melanoma was in the deeper layers of skin or had spread into the lymph nodes you will usually need to have check ups every 3 months for 3 years. After 3 years the check ups may only be every 6 months. If you are worried about anything between follow up appointments, contact your hospital doctor or specialist nurse. At each appointment your doctor will examine you, and ask you about your health and whether anything is worrying you. If you have any symptoms or concerns you may be offered a scan or X-ray. This is to look for any signs that the melanoma has come back anywhere in the body.

Advanced melanoma

You will have regular check ups with your specialist, probably three to six monthly for 5 years and then yearly for up to 10 years.

Coping with check ups

Many people find their check ups quite worrying. They may bring back all the worry about your melanoma. It may help to tell someone close to you how you feel. Many people find counselling helpful. Look in the coping with cancer section for information about counselling.

 

CR PDF Icon View and print the quick guides for treating early, medium or advanced melanoma.

 

 

Why you need follow up

After your treatment your doctor will want you to have regular check ups. How much follow up you have will depend on the stage of your primary melanoma. There are 3 main aims of follow up. These are to pick up any signs of

  • Melanoma coming back around your scar (local recurrence)
  • Melanoma spread to your lymph nodes or other part of your body
  • New primary melanomas that may develop
 

Follow up for early melanoma

If you had a very early melanoma, that was only in the surface layer of skin (in situ melanoma) your doctor will ask you to go back to the hospital to check the results of your surgery. They want to make sure the operation site is healing up well. Your doctor or nurse will show you how to check your skin for melanoma. Then you don't need any further appointments.

If your melanoma was in the upper layers of skin (stage 1A) you will usually have 2 to 4 appointments in the first year. Then your doctor will discharge you.

If you have any symptoms that you are worried about, you can contact your hospital doctor or specialist nurse between follow up appointments. You should contact your specialist straight away if you notice

  • Any other abnormal looking moles
  • Any sign of the melanoma growing back in the same place
  • Any growths or swelling near where the melanoma was removed
  • Any swelling in the lymph nodes closest to the area of the primary melanoma

For example, if the melanoma was on your arm the nearest lymph nodes will be in the armpit. Have a look at the section about the lymphatic system for more information.

 

Follow up for stage 2 and 3 melanoma

If your melanoma was in the deeper layers of skin or was in the lymph nodes you will usually need to have check ups every 3 months for 3 years. Then every 6 months for 2 more years.

At each appointment you will be

  • Examined by your doctor or nurse
  • Asked about your general health and if anything is worrying you

You may have blood tests done to check your general health. If you have any symptoms or are worried about anything in particular, you may be offered a CT scan or ultrasound scan. These tests can check whether the melanoma has come back or spread to anywhere in the body. 

If you are worried, or notice any new symptoms that you think may be related to your cancer, you can contact your hospital doctor between appointments.

Many people find their check ups quite worrying. If you are feeling well and getting on with life, a hospital appointment can bring all the worry about your cancer back to you. You may find it helpful to tell someone close to you how you are feeling. If you are able to share your worries, they may not seem quite so bad. Many people find counselling helpful. To find out about counselling, look in the coping with cancer section.

 

Follow up for advanced melanoma

If your melanoma has spread, you will have regular check ups with your specialist. The appointments may be every three months, or even more often than that. How often you see your doctor will depend on how well you are and whether you are having treatment. Of course, you can contact your specialist at any time if you need an extra appointment because you are worried about something or if you feel ill. 

You may be offered a CT scan or ultrasound scan. But unless you are being assessed to take part in a clinical trial, these will probably only be done if you have any new symptoms.

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Updated: 23 January 2014