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Skin cancer

Life after skin cancer treatment

Page last updated: January 2024

The information on this webpage was adapted from Understanding Skin Cancer - A guide for people with cancer, their families and friends (2024 edition). This webpage was last updated in January 2024.

Expert content reviewers:

This information was developed based on Australian clinical practice guidelines, and with the help of a range of health professionals and people affected by skin cancer:

  • A/Prof Victoria Mar, Director, Victorian Melanoma Service, Alfred Hospital and Monash University, VIC
  • Tracey Bilson, Consumer
  • Raelene Buchan, Consumer
  • Alison Button-Sloan, Consumer
  • Dr Margaret Chua, Radiation Oncologist, and the Skin Radiation Oncology team, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC
  • Prof Anne Cust, Deputy Director, The Daffodil Centre, The University of Sydney and Cancer Council NSW Chair, National Skin Cancer Committee, Cancer Council, and faculty member, Melanoma Institute Australia
  • A/Prof Paul Fishburn, Skin Cancer Doctor, Norwest Skin Cancer Centre, NSW and Faculty of Medicine, University of Queensland
  • Danielle Goss, Melanoma Clinical Nurse Specialist, Amie St Clair Melanoma (part of Melanoma Institute Australia), Wagga Wagga, NSW
  • Louise Pellerade, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA
  • Dr Shireen Sidhu, Head of Dermatology, The Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA
  • Dr Amelia Smit, Research Fellow – Melanoma and Skin Cancer, The Daffodil Centre, The University of Sydney and Cancer Council NSW
  • Dr Tony Tonks, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, Canberra Plastic Surgery, ACT

People who’ve had skin cancer have a higher risk of developing more skin cancers. After treatment, you will need regular checks to see if the cancer has come back and to look for any new skin cancers. 

People who are immunosuppressed may need to be checked more often. It’s very important to avoid more skin damage, check your own skin regularly, and see your doctor if you notice a change.

Cancer and your finances

Skin cancer can change your financial situation, especially if you have medical expenses or need to travel for treatment.

Check whether any financial assistance is available by calling Cancer Council 13 11 20 or, if you are in hospital, ask the social worker. Some treatment centres may offer payment plans.

See Cancer and your finances for more information.

Contact cancer support

Understanding sun protection

After a skin cancer diagnosis, you need to take special care to protect your skin from the sun’s UV radiation. It is especially important to  follow SunSmart behaviour

Do not use solariums. Also known as tanning beds or sun lamps, solariums give off artificial UV radiation and are banned for commercial use in Australia.

Daily sun protection times

UV radiation is not the same as sunshine – UV levels can be high on a cloudy day or at the snowfields. Using a sunscreen daily when the UV level is forecast to be 3 or above has been shown to reduce the risk of skin cancer.

The UV Index shows the intensity of the sun’s UV radiation. It can help you work out when to use sun protection.

An index of 3 or above means that UV levels are high enough to damage unprotected skin, and you need to use more than one type of sun protection. This includes protective clothing, a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and seeking shade.

The recommended daily sun protection times are the times of day the UV levels are expected to be 3 or higher. The daily sun protection times will vary according to where you live and the time of year. 

Some medicines and health conditions may make the skin more sensitive to UV radiation, causing it to burn or be damaged by the sun more quickly or easily.

Ask your doctor if this applies to you and if there are any extra things you should do to protect your skin. 

Check the SunSmart UV alert

Vitamin D

UV radiation from the sun causes skin cancer, but it is also the best source of vitamin D. People need vitamin D for a variety of reasons, including to have healthy bones.

Most people get enough vitamin D throughout the day – even when using sun protection.

When the UV index is 3 or above, you only need a few minutes outside on most days of the week to get enough vitamin D, but this will also depend on your skin colour, where you live and the time of year.

The body can absorb only a set amount of vitamin D at a time. Getting more sun won’t always increase your vitamin D levels, but it will increase your skin cancer risk. People who have had cancer should be extra careful about sun exposure.

Talk to your doctor about the best way to get vitamin D while reducing your risk of skin cancer. They may suggest you stay out of the sun as much as possible and take a vitamin D tablet instead.

“I had skin cancer removed and a skin graft. I have a large ‘indent’ from the removal of the cancer and a large scar at the donor site. I didn’t expect the amount of pain and appearance changes.” DAVID

Changes to your appearance

Skin cancer treatments such as surgery, curettage and electrodesiccation, and cryotherapy often leave a scar. In most cases, your doctor will do everything they can to make the scar less noticeable.

Most scars will fade with time. Skin treated with radiation therapy may change in colour, and appear lighter or darker depending on your skin tone.

You may worry about how the scar looks, especially if it’s on your face. Cosmetics can help cover scarring, as can your hairstyle or clothing. 

Talk to your doctor about treatments that can help improve the appearance of scars. Your radiation therapy team can talk to you about the best options for skincare.

You may want to talk to a counsellor, friend or family member about how you are feeling after any changes to your appearance. You can also call 13 11 20 to speak to our cancer nurses.

Get support from Look Good Feel Better

Understanding Skin Cancer

Download our Understanding Skin Cancer booklet to learn more

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Questions about cancer?

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