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Supportive care for melanoma

Supportive careSupportive careTreatment given to improve the quality of life of people who have a serious illness (such as cancer). helps people meet the physical, practical, emotional and spiritual challenges of melanoma skin cancer. It is an important part of cancer care. There are many programs and services available to help meet the needs and improve the quality of life of people living with cancer and their loved ones, especially after treatment has ended.

 

Recovering from melanoma and adjusting to life after treatment is different for each person, depending on the extent of the disease, the type of treatment and many other factors. The end of cancer treatment may bring mixed emotions. Even though treatment has ended, there may be other issues to deal with, such as coping with long-term side effects. A person who has been treated for melanoma may have the following concerns.

Self-esteem and body image

How a person feels about or sees themselves is called self-esteem. Body image is a person’s perception of their own body. Melanoma and its treatments can affect a person’s self-esteem and body image, especially when the melanoma occurs on the face. Often this is because cancer or cancer treatments may result in body changes, such as:

  • scars
  • hair loss
  • skin changes

Some of these changes can be temporary, others will last for a long time and some will be permanent.

For many people, body image and their perception of how others see them is closely linked to self-esteem. It may be a real concern for them and can cause considerable distress. They may be afraid to go out in public, fear that others will reject them and feel angry or upset.

Most melanomas treated with surgery will leave small scars. Sometimes larger surgical wounds require reconstructive surgery to restore a person’s appearance. Some treatment centres may have a make-up specialist who can show a person how to cover scars.

Recurrence

Fear of disease recurrence is very real for people who have been diagnosed with melanoma. Learning how to deal with those fears is important to maintain a good quality of life. In addition to the support offered by the treatment team, a mental health professional, such as a social worker or counsellor, can help people to learn how to cope and live with a diagnosis of melanoma.

Lymphedema

Lymphedema is a chronic form of swelling that occurs when lymph fluid builds up in the soft tissues of the limbs. It usually occurs in parts of the body where large numbers of lymph nodes have been removed.

With melanoma, the following can increase the risk of developing lymphedema:

  • the removal of the lymph nodes in the armpit or the groin
  • radiation therapy to the lymph nodes
  • limb perfusion or infusion therapy
  • spread of cancer to the lymph nodes

When lymph nodes are removed or damaged, it is harder for the body to fight infections, especially in the affected limb. To lower the risk of getting lymphedema, it is important to protect the skin of the affected limb from injuries such as cuts, scratches, bruises or burns.

If lymphedema develops, treatment involves preventing further fluid buildup and reducing swelling as much as possible. This may include elevating the limb, exercise, physical therapy and pain management. A person may ask for a referral to a healthcare professional with expertise in lymphedema management.

Protecting yourself from the sun

A personal history of melanoma increases the risk of developing a second melanoma. Protecting yourself from the sun is even more important as exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) can further increase the risk of developing a second melanoma.

 

See a list of questions to ask your doctor about supportive care after treatment.

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