What to Expect With Melanoma Skin Cancer

Woman examining her faceMelanoma is a serious form of skin cancer. However, if melanoma is found and treated early, it can go into remission, meaning the patient will have no signs or symptoms of cancer.

At Kaiser Permanente medical offices, we care for our patients with melanoma using the latest medical knowledge and advanced technology. Your cancer care team will help you understand what to expect and discuss your treatment options. Your team will provide care and support during diagnosis, treatment, and beyond.

Melanoma is treated by dermatologists (skin specialists), oncologists (cancer specialists), and general surgeons. At Kaiser Permanente, it’s easy for your doctors to consult with each other, see your electronic medical record, and better coordinate your care.

Developing a Treatment Plan

After your initial diagnosis, you’ll meet with a dermatologist if your cancer is found in an early stage. Or you’ll meet with a cancer doctor — a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, or surgeon. You’ll discuss treatment options and next steps.

Your doctor might order additional tests to determine the stage of cancer. This confirms the size of the tumor, how fast or slowly it’s growing, and whether cancer cells have spread (metastasized) to other areas of the body.

Staging helps your cancer doctor plan the right treatment for you.  It can also help in finding a clinical trial that you might be able to participate in.  

Sometimes the tests and staging can take up to a few weeks. We know that waiting for the results can cause anxiety. But this step is critical in planning your treatment.

At Kaiser Permanente, your doctor develops your treatment plan with you, reflecting the best treatments available. We encourage you to bring a family member or friend to your appointments to take notes and help ask questions.

Some patients want to get a second opinion for more information about their diagnosis or treatment options.

Melanoma Treatment

Melanoma treatment often requires surgery to remove the tumor tissue as well as nearby lymph nodes and areas where the cancer has spread. It may also include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy. Radiation and chemotherapy sessions are usually scheduled over a few weeks or months.

At Kaiser Permanente medical offices, we keep up with the rapid changes and improvements in cancer treatment. We offer surgery that’s most effective in treating your cancer, chemotherapy that’s easier to tolerate, and radiation that’s targeted to the cancer growth. We review the latest research findings to make sure our treatments are the most effective.

Side effects for chemotherapy and radiation may include nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, pain, and skin irritation. Side effects depend on the treatment, including type of chemotherapy drugs and radiation dose.

    Planning Ahead

    After you and your doctor have decided on a treatment plan, you can prepare for how it might affect your daily life.

    Your care team will let you know how to manage the side effects common for your type of treatment. A nutritionist can help you plan foods to have on hand. If you’re likely to lose your hair during treatment, you might want to get a wig, scarves, or hats.

    Adjusting your priorities and work schedule in advance can help ease stress before treatment begins. You may want to contact friends or family members to see if they’re available to help with rides or household needs.

    After Treatment

    It may take a while to get your energy back after treatment. Recovery from surgery depends on how extensive it was as well as your general health.

    Making certain lifestyle changes, such as protecting your skin from UV radiation — from the sun or tanning beds — is important. Wear protective clothing, a hat, and sunscreen whenever you’re outside in the daylight.  

    Keeping up with your follow-up care plan at Kaiser Permanente helps your body continue to heal. Many patients are soon able to return to activities they enjoyed before cancer diagnosis and treatment.

    Many people who have had cancer describe themselves as survivors. You’ve gone through a journey of tests, diagnosis, and treatment, handled side effects, and possibly made major life style changes. Through all of that you’ve continued to manage life and move forward.

    You may want to honor the courage in yourself, the connection you make to others, and your ability to survive the challenges you’ve faced with cancer. We honor your journey as well.