Melanoma: Care Instructions

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Melanoma is a form of skin cancer in which abnormal skin cells grow out of control. It helps to learn about this condition and what can be done about it.

It is very important for you to take good care of your skin so that you don't get melanoma. If you've had melanoma, protect your skin from the sun to lower your risk of getting it again. And if you've had treatment for melanoma, you will need regular checkups with your doctor to make sure it hasn't come back.

Melanoma shows up mostly on skin that is not regularly covered up. But it can show up anywhere on the body. It is most often found early, when it can be cured. The most common treatment is surgery to remove it. Sometimes lymph nodes near the cancer also are removed. Other treatments for melanoma may include medicines that target cancer cells (targeted therapy) and medicines that help your immune system fight cancer (immunotherapy). In some cases, radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be used.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Learn the most important warning signs for melanoma—a change in the size, shape, or color of a mole or other skin growth, such as a birthmark.
  • Check all the skin on your body once a month for skin growths or other changes, such as changes in color and feel of the skin.
    • Stand in front of a full-length mirror. Look carefully at the front and back of your body. Then look at your right and left sides with your arms raised.
    • Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms, the back of your upper arms, and your palms.
    • Look at your feet, the bottoms of your feet, and the spaces between your toes.
    • Use a hand mirror to look at the back of your legs, the back of your neck, and your back, rear end (buttocks), and genital area. Part the hair on your head to look at your scalp.
  • If you see a change in a skin growth, contact your doctor. Look for:
    • A mole that bleeds.
    • A fast-growing mole.
    • A scaly or crusted growth on the skin.
    • A sore that will not heal.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • If you have pain, follow your doctor's instructions to relieve it. Pain from cancer can almost always be controlled. Use pain medicine when you first notice pain, before it becomes severe.
  • Eat healthy food. If you do not feel like eating, try to eat food that has protein and extra calories to keep up your strength and prevent weight loss.
  • Get some physical activity every day, but do not get too tired.
  • Get enough sleep, and take time to do things you enjoy. This can help reduce stress.
  • Think about joining a support group. Or discuss your concerns with your doctor or a counselor.
  • If you are vomiting or have diarrhea:
    • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Choose water and other clear liquids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
    • When you are able to eat, try clear soups, mild foods, and liquids until all symptoms are gone for 12 to 48 hours. Other good choices include dry toast, crackers, cooked cereal, and gelatin dessert, such as Jell-O.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can slow healing. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • If you have not already done so, prepare a list of advance directives. Advance directives are instructions to your doctor and family members about what kind of care you want if you become unable to speak or express yourself.

Protect your skin

  • Always wear sunscreen on exposed skin. Make sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Use it every day, even when it is cloudy. While you are outdoors, apply more sunscreen every 2 to 3 hours or anytime your skin gets wet.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and pants if you are going to be outdoors for very long.
  • Stay out of the sun during the midday hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), when UV rays are strongest.
  • Avoid sunlamps and tanning salons.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You see a change in your skin, such as a growth or mole that:
    • Grows bigger. This may happen very slowly.
    • Changes color.
    • Changes shape.
    • Starts to bleed easily.
  • You have swollen glands in your armpits, groin, or neck.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.