My husband has black moles on his face - could this be melanoma? How serious are they if they change?A.
Moles are pigmented colored cells that can appear anywhere on our bodies. Having moles on our bodies does not necessarily mean they are cancer or will become cancerous. Simultaneously however, it is important to note that any change in a mole in size, color, and texture should be examined by a medical dermatologist. To help recognize the signs of melanoma, the American Academy of Dermatology created the ABCDEs of melanoma detection:
- Asymmetry: One half of the mole or pigmented spot is different than the other half
- Borders: The mole or spot has irregular or poorly defined borders
- Colors: Color is varied from one area to another. Includes shades of tan, brown, black (also can include white, red or blue)
- Diameter: Spot is usually greater than 6mm (size of pencil eraser)
- Evolving: A mole or spot that looks different from others or changes in size, shape, or color.
Your husband should have the moles on his face (and any others) checked out by a doctor. You can search for a dermatologist through the American Academy of Dermatology’s Find a Dermatologist database. The National Cancer Institute offers information about preventing skin cancer and melanoma. Additionally, the Melanoma Research Foundation provides a wealth of information about the prevention and treatment of melanoma.
How do I find doctors who specialize in treating melanoma?A.
Finding a doctor who specializes in melanoma and skin cancers can significantly improve the recovery process and cancer survivorship. It’s important to find a doctor who understands the intricacies and dynamics of living with a melanoma diagnosis. You want to find a doctor who regularly treats melanoma and can address the needs of people living with this type of cancer. A dermatologist, for instance, would be more informed about melanoma. Although a doctor’s personality should not impact treatment, it can be extremely helpful if we feel comfortable speaking with our doctor.
To find a doctor who specializes in treating melanoma you may first want to consult with your primary care physician and request a referral. Your family members, friends or colleagues may know of a doctor who specializes in this type of cancer. A representative from your health insurance company may also assist you in seeking a doctor whose specialty is melanoma. Speaking with your insurance representative would also help you understand your coverage and learn whether or not you would be allowed to go out of network to see a specialist.
Understanding your doctor’s credentials and training can be helpful in making educated decisions regarding your diagnosis and treatment. Pay attention to a doctor’s credentials and don’t be afraid to ask about his/her education and training. Some doctors including dermatologists may choose additional training in their specialty.
When searching for a doctor, some questions to ask yourself include:
- Does this doctor have the appropriate education and training to address my type of cancer?
- Will this doctor listen to my needs and treat me with respect?
- Does this doctor clearly explain treatment options to me that I understand and encourage me to ask questions about my diagnosis and treatment?
- Do I feel as if I am an important part of the medical team?
Finding the right treatment facility for you is equally as important to finding the right doctor. Locating a comprehensive cancer center, for instance, may provide access to a number of doctors to whom you could reach out and learn about treatment options and alternatives for you to consider.
In discussing your melanoma diagnosis, questions to ask include:
- How large is the tumor and has it metastasized?
- Will surgery alone be able to remove the cancer or will I need additional treatment?
- What are the treatments available for my type of cancer?
- Are there any potential side effects related to my treatment?
- Am I at risk for a recurrence of melanoma or other type of cancer?
- How frequently will I have to follow up with you?
And finally, the American Academy of Dermatology provides a Find a Dermatologist database through their website.
I have ocular melanoma and there is very little written about it. Do you have any websites or places you would recommend for more information?A.
Melanomas begin in cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce the skin pigment called melanin which gives skin its color. While the majority of melanomas form on the skin, melanocytes are also present in other tissues of the body. When melanoma forms in the eye, it is know as ocular melanoma. Ocular melanoma is the most common form of eye cancer in adults, and accounts for five percent of all melanomas. It is estimated that every year 2,500 adults living in the United States will be diagnosed with ocular melanoma.
Other organizations that might also be helpful to you include:
Finally, the National Cancer Institute offers up-to-date treatment information: Intraocular (Eye) Melanoma Treatment.
What support groups are there for people with skin cancer? My brother was diagnosed two months ago and I think he could benefit from one.A.
It’s never easy to adjust to a cancer diagnosis. Everything changes when you hear the words “you have cancer.” It is a time when many people need extra support. Speaking to an oncology social worker can help reduce the stress of adjusting to a diagnosis and assist with understanding treatment options, side effects, disclosure and finances/insurance issues. I always emphasize that reaching out for help is a sign of strength. Oncology social workers are trained in how a diagnosis of cancer affects a person and his or her family and friends. They are also trained to help cancer patients and their families tackle the problems that accompany the disease, such as the financial demands, the physical changes, social adjustment and psychological impact, and care. Adjusting to and dealing with the diagnosis is an important part of the healing process.
Cancer often makes people feel isolated. Joining a support group allows people with cancer to feel less alone because they are talking with others who are experiencing similar fears and concerns. They can speak opening and freely without feeling that they are being a burden to friends and loved ones. Please know, your brother would have to call himself for these services.
CancerCare can provide that help in many ways. Currently, we have an online group for people with melanoma. Our registration process is streamlined so it is very user friendly. We can also provide individual telephone counseling. All of our services are free of charge, and our services are for both the people with cancer and their loved ones.
The Cancer Hope Network is a way to connect, by telephone, with an individual with a similar diagnosis. Their volunteer survivors are trained to talk you through some of the common difficulties that come along with any diagnoses.
Please remember that you and your brother are not alone. CancerCare’s services are here to help you.
My 28-year-old daughter has melanoma and recently quit her job due to emotional stress associated with it and is living with us now. She is still in active treatment and has prescriptions and doctor bills, but has lost her insurance. Could you tell me what would be the best option for her?A.
I can see that there has been a tremendous ripple effect with your daughter’s diagnosis, both for her, of course, but really for everyone involved. Dealing with cancer is always difficult but can be especially sensitive when one is a young adult.
CancerCare provides telephone counseling for anyone affected by cancer, and we also a specific online melanoma patient support group. Either of these modalities would allow her to express some of her fears and concerns in a safe and caring place. Please remember that caregiving brings its own unique challenges. Our services also include counseling for you as well. When someone in the family is diagnosed with cancer, the whole family is affected. Please call our HopeLine (800-813-4673) or view our caregiving resources.
As far as the financial stressors, I suggest investigating www.healthcare.gov. They can explain whether she can apply for insurance through the Affordable Care Act. You can also explore possible assistance with medications through the Partnership for Prescription Assistance.
My husband was recently diagnosed with skin cancer. While we have insurance to cover many of the related costs, this will certainly deplete our finances further. What assistance is there for our situation?A.
While you have many advantages being insured, there may be additional unforeseen problems associated with being underinsured. There may be some ways of getting around this. Some of the drug companies have prescription assistance funds. I would encourage you to look into these by simply putting the name of the drug into an internet search engine.
Although there are many organizations that highlight prevention and awareness for melanoma, there are very few that offer financial assistance. Please call our HopeLine at 800-813-4673 for more information.