Thumbnail image of: Skin, Cross Section: Illustration

Cancer of the Skin (Melanoma) Discharge Information

What is cancer of the skin?

Melanoma is an uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells that starts in skin cells called melanocytes. It is a type of skin cancer. Melanocytes make melanin, the pigment that colors the skin, hair, and iris of the eye.

If the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is still melanoma, and is called metastatic melanoma. The three most common types of skin cancer are melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. Of these three types of skin cancer, melanoma is most likely to spread and be more difficult to treat.

There are different types and stages of melanoma based where the tumor started and where it has spread. Knowing the type and stage of melanoma helps your healthcare provider decide on the best treatment plan for you. It is important to diagnose and treat melanoma as soon as possible. The main goals of treatment are to kill the tumor cells, prevent a localized cancer from spreading, and prevent metastatic cancer from spreading more than it already has.

The main risk factor for developing melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet light, which is the light that comes from the sun or tanning booths. You may also be at a higher risk for developing melanoma if you have a lighter skin tone, a problem with your immune system, have been exposed to certain chemicals, or have a family history of skin cancer.

How can I take care of myself when I go home?

Your chance of cure depends on how far the melanoma has spread. How long it takes to get better depends on your treatment, how well you recover, your overall health, and any complications you may have. You may need to make lifestyle changes to stay as healthy as possible.

Management

  • Your provider will give you a list of your medicines when you leave the hospital.
    • Know your medicines. Know what they look like, how much you should take each time, how often you should take them, and why you take each one.
    • Take your medicines exactly as your provider tells you to.
    • Carry a list of your medicines in your wallet or purse. Include any nonprescription medicines and supplements on the list.
    • Talk to your provider before you use any other medicines, including nonprescription medicines.
  • Your provider may also prescribe medicine or other therapy to:
    • Treat pain
    • Treat or prevent an infection
    • Treat or prevent low blood counts caused by the cancer or its treatment
    • Treat or prevent side effects, such as nausea or constipation, from other treatments
    • Help your immune system fight cancer
  • If you have had surgery, to care for your surgical wound:
    • Keep your surgical wound clean.
    • If you are told to change the dressing on your surgical wound, wash your hands before changing the dressing and after disposing of the dressing.
  • Follow activity restrictions, such as not driving or operating machinery, as recommended by your healthcare provider or pharmacist, especially if you are taking pain medicines.
  • Take care of your health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet and try to keep a healthy weight. If you smoke, try to quit. If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink. Learn ways to manage stress. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
  • You may need other treatments for your cancer after you leave the hospital. Treatments may include:
    • Biological therapy, which uses medicine designed to help your immune system fight the cancer or block the growth of cancer cells.
    • Chemotherapy (anticancer drugs), which uses medicine to kill cancer cells. Different types of chemotherapy may be given in the hospital, outpatient clinic, or at home.
    • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation treatment may be done in the hospital or and outpatient clinic.

Appointments

  • Follow your provider’s instructions for follow-up appointments and routine tests.
  • Keep appointments for all other testing you may need. Testing may include:
    • Blood tests to check for certain hormones, proteins, or chemicals that may be high if you have cancer.
    • Bone X-rays: Pictures of your bones to check for cancer
    • Bone scan: A series of detailed pictures that are taken after your healthcare provider injects a small amount of radioactive material into your blood. The scan shows any areas of bone where the radioactive material is being absorbed.
    • Chest X-ray: Pictures of the inside of your chest to check for cancer
    • Computed tomography (CT) scan: A series of X-rays taken from different angles and arranged by a computer to show thin cross sections of areas where the cancer may have spread
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A powerful magnetic field and radio waves are used to take pictures from different angles to show thin cross sections of areas where the cancer may have spread
    • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A series of detailed pictures that are taken after your healthcare provider injects a small amount of radioactive material into your blood. The scan shows areas where the radioactive material is being absorbed.
  • Talk with your provider about any questions or concerns you have.

Call your healthcare provider if you have new or worsening:

  • Deep bone pain
  • Depression
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Signs of infection around your surgical wound. These include:
    • The area around your wound is more red or painful
    • The wound area is very warm to touch
    • You have blood, pus, or other fluid coming from your wound area
    • You have a fever higher than 101.5° F (38.6° C)
    • You have chills or muscle aches

For more information:

Contact national and local organizations such as:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-12-19
Last reviewed: 2014-11-21
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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