After treatment: follow up

Saturday 1 March, 2014

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On this page: Will I get other skin cancers? | Sun exposure and vitamin DProtecting your skin | Seeking support

Follow up will depend on the type of treatment you have. Some skin cancers require closer monitoring than others. Ask your doctor if you are unsure of your follow-up plan. If your wound doesn’t heal, or if you notice any other skin changes, see your GP, dermatologist or the original surgeon.

Will I get other skin cancers?

If you have been treated for skin cancer, you have a higher chance of developing new skin cancers. Sun damage builds up over the years and can’t be repaired. However, you can prevent further damage to your skin. Follow the steps below for protecting your skin, make sun protection a part of your lifestyle throughout the year, not just in summer, and visit your doctor for regular check-ups.

Sun exposure and vitamin D

UV radiation from the sun is the major cause of skin cancer but it is also the best natural source of vitamin D, which is needed to develop and maintain strong and healthy bones. Vitamin D forms in the skin when it is exposed to UV from sunlight.

The amount of sunlight you need to make vitamin D depends on several factors, including the UV level, your skin type and your lifestyle. UV levels vary across Australia, throughout the year and throughout the day. This means, the amount of time you need to be in the sun to get enough vitamin D will be different depending on your location, the season, the time of day, cloud coverage and the environment.

Increasing your sun exposure above the recommended level does not increase your vitamin D levels, but does increase your risk of skin cancer. Short, incidental exposure to the sun, such as walking from the office to get lunch or hanging out the washing, is the best way to maintain adequate vitamin D levels.

Some people are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency, this includes people with naturally dark skin or particular health conditions, or who take medications affecting vitamin D absorption. 

Sun exposure and vitamin D

Protecting your skin

Use a combination of measures to protect your skin from the sun.

  • Wear clothing that covers your shoulders, neck, arms, legs and body. The best protection comes from closely woven fabric.
  • Check the UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating on clothes designed for sun protection. The higher the UPF number, the greater the protection. UPF 50+ gives the best protection.
  • Use a sunscreen with a SPF 30 or above and apply at least 20 minutes before going out, as it takes this long to sink into the skin. Reapply every two hours, after swimming or after any other activity that causes you to sweat or rub it off.
  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat that shades your face, neck and ears. Adult hats should have at least a 7.5 cm brim.
  • Use shade from trees, umbrellas, buildings or any type of canopy. UV radiation is reflective and bounces off surfaces such as concrete, snow, water and sand, causing sun damage even when you think you’re shaded.
  • Protect your eyes with sunglasses that meet the Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1067:2003 and an Eye Protection Factor (EPF) of 10. Wrap-around styles are best.
  • Always protect your skin during the sun protection times indicated by the daily SunSmart UV Alert.
  • Do not use solariums, tanning beds or sun lamps, which give off UV radiation.
  • Protect babies and children from direct exposure to sunlight. Use sun protection measures when the UV rating is 3 or above.

Seeking support

Cosmetic care

Skin cancer treatments such as surgery, skin flaps or grafts, curettage and cautery, and cryotherapy often leave noticeable scars. In most cases your doctor will do everything possible to make the scar less noticeable. Most scars will fade with time.

You may feel concerned with the appearance of the scar, especially if it’s on your face. Various cosmetics are available to help conceal the scar. Your hairstyle or clothing might also cover scarring. You may want to talk to a counsellor, friend or family member about how you are feeling about any changes to your appearance.

Practical and financial help

Skin cancer may cause practical and financial difficulties, particularly for people living in the country who have to travel for treatment.

Financial assistance – through benefits, pensions and programs – may help pay for prescription medicines and transport costs to medical appointments.

These services may be different in each state and territory. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or ask the hospital social worker which services are available in your local area and if you are eligible to receive them. 

Reviewed by: Dr Andrew Satchell, Dermatologist, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Dubbo Dermatology; Irena Brozek, Research and Development Officer - Sun, Cancer Council NSW; Dr Alvin Chong, Senior Lecturer in Dermatology, Skin and Cancer Foundation Victoria and The University of Melbourne; Trevor Munn, Consumer; Neva Sperling, Consumer; Monica Tucker, Cancer Information Consultant, Cancer Council Helpline; Margaret Whitton, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Department of Dermatology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, members of the SunSmart Victoria team and Carole Arbuckle, Cancer Council Victoria Helpline Nurse.

Updated: 01 Mar, 2014