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Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Your Skin Cancer Diagnosis

Information You Need After a Skin Cancer Diagnosis

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Updated February 16, 2009

It goes without saying that getting a skin cancer diagnosis can be emotionally devastating. Many patients have found that an effective way to cope is to take an active role in their skin cancer treatment plan. An informed patient is an empowered patient, and studies have shown that empowerment leads to a better quality of life. First and foremost, taking an active role means asking your healthcare provider questions about their treatment decisions.

The American Cancer Society recommends that you or a loved one ask your doctor these general questions after being diagnosed with skin cancer:

  • What type of skin cancer do I have?
  • Can you explain the different types of skin cancer?
  • Has my cancer spread beneath the skin? Has it spread to lymph nodes or other organs?
  • What are my treatment options? What do you recommend? Why?
  • Will I be OK if the cancer is just removed with no follow-up treatment?
  • What are the treatment risks or side effects that I should expect?
  • Will a scar remain after treatment?
  • What are the chances of my cancer coming back with the treatment options we have discussed? What would we do if that happens?
  • What should I do to be ready for treatment?
  • What is my expected prognosis, based on my cancer as you view it?
  • What are my chances of developing another skin cancer?
  • Should I take special precautions to avoid sun exposure? What are the most important steps I can take to protect myself from the sun?
  • Are any of my family members at risk for skin cancer? What should I tell them to do? Should I tell my children's doctor that I have been diagnosed with a skin cancer?

If you have been diagnosed with melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer, you may want to ask more detailed questions such as these:

  • What exact stage is the cancer in?
  • What are the chances for full remission?
  • What are the pros and cons of each treatment option?
  • What did the biopsy show?
  • How thick is my tumor?
  • Has the cancer spread? How far?
  • Do I need a sentinel lymph node biopsy?
  • What are the chances that the treatment will be successful? If it's not successful, what are the options?
  • Are any new treatments being studied that might fit my condition? Would a clinical trial be right for me?
  • Is your medical team experienced in treating the type of melanoma I have?
  • What is the treatment likely to cost? Will my insurance cover some/all of it?

It is important not to be shy or intimidated when dealing with doctors and nurses. Do your homework. Ask any question you have, no matter how simple you think they are. Trust, but verify, what your doctor recommends. This is your body -- and perhaps even your life -- on the line, after all! If your doctor can't or won't answer these questions, there's only one course of action: find another doctor.

Source:

"What Should You Ask Your Doctor About Squamous and Basal Cell Skin Cancer?" American Cancer Society. 30 January 2009.

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