The diagnosis of malignant melanoma is a life changing event. Having one melanoma puts you (and your family) at greater risk of having another one. There are ways for you to help discover new suspicious lesions before they have a chance to grow or spread.
At the time of diagnosis:
- Make an appointment with the physician who well be performing a wide excision around the melanoma.
- Make an appointment with your dermatologist to have a full body examination of your skin every 3 months for at least the first year. Some experts believe that an examination may be less frequent if your lesion is a “melanoma-in-situ”.
- Make an appointment with your ophthalmologist to have your eyes checked for moles of the retina or iris and signs of ocular melanoma.
- The next time you have your teeth cleaned or examined, ask the hygienist or dentist to look carefully at your gums, tongue, cheeks, and palate for pigmented lesions.
- If you are a woman, ask your gynecologist to do a visual inspection at your next yearly exam. If it will be more than 6 months until your scheduled exam, go in early just for the pigmented lesion exam.
If your melanoma is greater than 1 mm in depth, you may be asked to see an oncologist. Your physicians will help you decide whether or not a sentinel node examination should be performed.
After the diagnosis:
- Studies show that you are more likely to find an early melanoma if you perform monthly self skin examinations. These can be done with a mirror (or two) and good lighting. Ask your significant other to help evaluate your back and other hard to see areas. The self-examination does not take the place of a medical examination. Report any new or changing lesions that have been present for at least 2 weeks.
- There is controversy over whether chest x-rays, blood tests, or body imaging scans can help detect metastatic disease. You and your physician will discuss this.
The sun is now officially your enemy! Choose a daily sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater. If you plan to be out of doors or in the car a great deal, consider going with an SPF greater than 45. Sun protection is not complete without a wide brimmed hat, long sleeves, sunglasses, and even gloves. Protective SPF clothing will add tremendous protection and peace of mind without the mess or fuss of creams and lotions.