You've Been Diagnosed with Skin Cancer, Now What?

Any type of cancer diagnosis can be very concerning and the course of treatment for it varies by type. With skin cancer, there are quite a few types that make the type of treatment vary.  

You may have received a diagnosis after an exam by your primary care doctor or a dermatologist. The next step would be choosing a skin cancer specialist –also called an oncologist–for your skin cancer treatment plan.  

First, you’ll learn more about the type of skin cancer you have: melanoma or nonmelanoma. You will also learn more about how far the cancer has spread or how deep it goes into your skin. Much of this information comes from the biopsy that was performed to determine the type of skin cancer it is.

What Kind of Doctor Should I See First?

Some dermatologists have experience in treating skin cancer and skin cancer surgery. In some cases the skin cancer can be removed quickly and easily by a dermatologist and no further treatment is needed, but regular follow up is recommended.

If your skin cancer will require further treatment after removal, or if the skin cancer is located in an area that’s difficult to operate on, an oncologist may be the best option. A skin cancer oncologist is most familiar with all of the various cancer treatment drugs, clinical trials, radiation treatments, and supportive care services that cancer patients may need during treatment.

Your oncologist will spend time with you and your loved ones to understand your specific situation and will consult with the Compass Oncology team of skin cancer experts to develop a specific treatment plan for you–based on if you have melanoma or nonmelanoma skin cancer. They will connect you with additional specialists as needed, including:

  • Skin cancer surgeon and/or plastic surgeon.
  • Radiation oncologist who can offer external radiation therapy, called brachytherapy.
  • Oncology nurses who are familiar with the skin cancer treatment process, side effects and how to best manage them.

Keep Notes and Records

Before you even see an oncologist we suggest you purchase a special notebook and folder where you can take notes and keep your paperwork together for your skin cancer treatment regimen. You should start this notebook as soon as you’re diagnosed, even if you’re seeing a dermatologist before you consult with an oncologist, to jot down questions, dates, medicine schedules and how you feel to share this with your skin cancer specialist.

If a written notebook isn’t easy for you, choose a method that you like and then commit to using it regularly. A laptop can easily be brought in or even use the “notes” feature on your phone where you’ll be able to refer back to it. Whatever you choose it’s best to then stay consistent.

Questions to Ask Your Medical Oncologist

Things you might want to ask about your skin cancer diagnosis and treatment plan include:

  • What should you do to protect yourself from the sun to avoid more skin cancer developing?
  • Is surgery required? If not, what are the other treatment options?
  • Will you need a plastic surgeon?
  • What kind of side effects should you expect from the treatment that’s chosen?
  • Are there recommendations for eating, exercising or other activities that you should be aware of?
  • What to expect during your appointments? You may want to read our “Your First Visit” section before arriving at Compass Oncology.
  • Are clinical trials an option?

How Fast Should I Make Decisions?

With skin cancer, it’s important to act but not so fast that you miss opportunities to listen to the recommended treatment plan and consider any questions you may have. The first step is typically scheduling an appointment with a skin cancer oncologist who will consult with his/her team to give you their best recommendation.

The skin cancer experts at Compass Oncology are here to serve you with care, both physically and emotionally, as you journey through dealing with skin cancer.

Should I Get a Second Opinion?

You should feel confident about your diagnosis; many patients choose to get a second opinion before beginning any treatment plan. At Compass Oncology, our oncologists provide many second opinions – for all types of cancer diagnoses and treatment plans. Most insurance companies will cover a second opinion assessment, but you should always check with your insurance provider to check your coverage before making an appointment.

To schedule a second opinion with one of our physicians, please choose a location that is convenient for you and call our office to make an appointment. Compass Oncology has offices located throughout the Portland-Vancouver area.

Support Groups and Other Services

We know this is a difficult time, but you can do this–and the cancer care specialists at Compass Oncology are ready to help you every step of the way. We’re here to answer questions and connect you with the resources you need. Visit our Patient Resources page for more information.

What Happens After Skin Cancer Treatment?

Following specific skin cancer treatments, it is possible that some type of follow up cancer treatments will be recommended to supplement and/or keep a close watch on your skin. Your Compass Oncology cancer specialist team will inform you of what is recommended based on your unique skin cancer treatment plan.

Precautions for Skin Cancer Prevention

There are precautions you can take to help prevent future skin cancers from developing. Because skin cancer is caused by ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure from the sun we suggest you limit exposure. But as a Portland-Vancouver resident you don’t want to stay indoors so here are some things that you can do to be preventative:

  • Cover up with a shirt – even when swimming. There are swim shirts that offer SPF or UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) fabric in case your sunscreen lotion wears off. If you don’t have a shirt that states that it offers sun protection, consider a darker colored or a brighter colored shirt that blocks more of the sun’s rays versus a light or white shirt.
  • Try to stay in the shade.
  • Wear a hat. Our scalps are very susceptible to developing skin cancer over time and it’s a difficult place to put SPF location.
  • Wear sunglasses. The area around our eyes and our actual eyes can develop cancer from sun exposure. Be sure your lenses block UV rays.
  • Use sunscreen 30 SPF or higher and reapply every 2 hours or after getting out of the water. Don’t forget your ears! Try to dry off if you’re exceptionally wet before applying sunscreen otherwise it will simply run off your skin rather than soak into wet skin.
  • Use SPF lip balm. Our lips are covered in skin and can develop cancer too!
  • Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps at all costs.

Early detection is the best way to make sure that skin cancer can be treated with success. Be mindful of any changes you see on your body. If any moles or patches of skin look abnormal, talk with your doctor about having a skin test.