If you have had melanoma, you may wonder if it can return. The answer, unfortunately, is yes — even if your treatment was successful. That’s why your doctor will want to monitor you closely. They may follow up with you every few months, especially in the first few years after your initial treatment.
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“Melanoma can recur at any stage,” says skin cancer expert Ahmad Tarhini, MD, PhD. “It’s a serious disease, but it’s one that we can cure if it’s caught in time.”
The chances of your melanoma coming back depend on its stage.
Those who’ve had melanoma are at greater risk for developing another melanoma. It can return in the same spot or elsewhere on your body, even 10 years after initial treatment.
Some cancer cells may remain inside your body that screening tests can’t detect. If these cells grow into a tumor, it’s known as a recurrence.
Doctors classify melanoma in one of four stages:
The likelihood of recurrence varies by stage. It’s less likely to recur at lower stages, Dr. Tarhini says.
“The recurrence rate increases as the stage advances — even after successful surgery,” he says.
The stage also affects your prognosis. The lower the stage, the higher the likelihood is of curing your melanoma.
“At Stage 1, over 90% of patients can be cured,” says Dr. Tarhini. “As the stage progresses, the likelihood of cure is less. However, with recent advancements in immunotherapy and targeted therapy for melanoma, even at Stage 4, we are very optimistic that we can cure many patients.”
The main key to combating a melanoma recurrence is early detection.
After your treatment, it’s vital to continue to see your dermatologist or physician regularly. Your doctor will base the need for follow-up on your specific case. As time goes by without a relapse, the frequency of visits will gradually decline.
“For patients who had melanoma before, we generally recommend seeing your physician every three to six months,” Dr. Tarhini says. “The higher the stage of melanoma you had, the higher your risk is for relapse.”
He recommends seeing your physician every three months for a year. Then, every four to six months for the next year. After that, every six months up to five years.
“If there is no evidence of another melanoma or disease relapse at that point, continue your follow-up once a year,” he says.
Here are the best ways to avoid melanoma recurrence:
To spot signs of melanoma, keep the ABCDE guidelines in mind:
“The earlier we find it, the much higher the chances of curing it,” Dr. Tarhini says. “This supports the importance of monitoring your skin and screening for abnormal moles that could signal melanoma.”