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How to Keep Melanoma From Coming Back

Four proven strategies to lower your chances of getting skin cancer again.

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If you've been diagnosed and treated for melanoma, you might be worried that more tumors will develop. It's a valid concern—according to the American Cancer Society, you have a better chance of getting melanoma if you've had it already.

And while there's not much you can do to prevent a recurrence of the original melanoma, you can help reduce your risk of developing a second, new cancer.

So, what can you do to lower your odds? Follow these four steps.

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Limit UV exposure

Your biggest environmental enemy is UV radiation from the sun, but there are several ways you can limit your exposure. Stay indoors or in the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest. Also, cover up with sun-protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. And be sure to use sunscreen the right way.

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Do monthly skin checks

Give yourself a thorough full-body skin check once a month. Do the exam in bright light using both a full-length mirror and a handheld mirror, so you can check your back and all around your arms and legs. Use a hair dryer to help check your scalp.

Make sure to note any suspicious moles in a notebook or app like MySkinPal. Take pictures if possible, to better visualize changes over time. If a spot has changed significantly, make sure to contact your healthcare provider.

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Know the warning signs

Be diligent about looking for signs of trouble, following the ABCDE guidelines from the American Cancer Society:

  • Asymmetry: Do both halves of the mole match, or are they uneven?
  • Border: Are the edges of the mole smooth, or are they bumpy, jagged or otherwise irregular?
  • Color: Are there patches of pink, red, blue or white in your mole? Is the color consistent throughout, or does it change?
  • Diameter: How big is the mole? Is it bigger than 1/4th of an inch?
  • Evolving: Has the mole changed?

Remember that the symptoms of a recurrence or new cancer could be different. They could show up in the same spot, on nearby skin or somewhere else in your body, such as a lump or swelling. Since a recurrence might emerge elsewhere, like in your lungs or brain, be on the lookout for symptoms that don't affect the skin, like pain, fatigue and coughing. If you find a spot that worries you, or have any unexplained symptoms, talk to your doctor. 

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Check in with your doctor

After your treatment is over, it's important to keep your follow-up appointments, even when you don't have any symptoms. Depending on how advanced your melanoma was, you may need follow-up physical exams, perhaps every three months or maybe once a year; your schedule will be specific to you. Your doctor may also recommend follow-up imaging tests, such as chest x-rays or CT scans, especially if your skin cancer was found at a late stage. Keeping in touch with your doctor can help you stay on the road to good health. 

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