Life after treatment
After treatment, you will need regular check-ups to confirm the cancer hasn’t come back and to look for new skin cancers. People who’ve had skin cancer have a higher risk of developing more skin cancers.
It’s important to prevent further damage to your skin. For ways to make sun protection a part of your lifestyle.
It’s also important to check your skin regularly and to visit your doctor to develop a follow-up plan. Ask your doctor how often you need to have full skin checks.
After a skin cancer diagnosis, you need to take special care to protect your skin from the sun’s UV radiation. Using a sunscreen daily when the UV level is forecast to be 3 or above has been shown to reduce the risk of skin cancer.
The UV Index shows the intensity of the sun’s UV radiation. It can help you work out when to use sun protection. An index of 3 or above means that UV levels are high enough to damage unprotected skin, and you need to use more than one type of sun protection.
The recommended daily sun protection times are the times of day the UV levels are expected to be 3 or higher. The daily sun protection times will vary according to where you live and the time of year.
Some medicines and health conditions may make the skin more sensitive to UV radiation, causing it to burn or be damaged by the sun more quickly or easily. Ask your doctor if this applies to you and if there are any extra things you should do to protect your skin. You may need to use sun protection all the time, whatever the UV level is.
UV radiation from the sun causes skin cancer, but it is also the best source of vitamin D. People need vitamin D to develop and maintain strong, healthy bones.
The body can absorb only a set amount of vitamin D at a time. Getting more sun than recommended does not increase your vitamin D levels, but it does increase your skin cancer risk. Most people get enough vitamin D through incidental exposure to the sun, while still using sun protection. When the UV Index is 3 or above, this may mean spending just a few minutes outdoors on most days of the week.
After a diagnosis of skin cancer, talk to your doctor about the best ways to get enough vitamin D while reducing your risk of developing more skin cancers. Your doctor may advise you to limit your sun exposure as much as possible. In some cases, this may mean you don’t get enough sun exposure to maintain your vitamin D levels. Your doctor may tell you to take a supplement.
During sun protection times (when UV levels are 3 or above) use a combination of the following measures to protect your skin. Find a way to make sun protection part of your everyday routine – check the UV level forecast, apply sunscreen as part of your morning ritual, keep a broad-brimmed hat and sunscreen within easy reach (such as near the front door or in your bag), and look for shade whenever possible.
Slip on clothing – Wear clothing that covers your shoulders, neck, arms, legs and body. Choose closely woven fabric or fabric with a high ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating in a dark colour.
Slop on sunscreen – Use an SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen. Apply 20 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every two hours, or after swimming, sweating or any activity that causes you to rub it off. For an adult, the recommended amount is 1 teaspoon for each arm, each leg, front of body, back of body, and the face, neck and ears – a total of 7 teaspoons of sunscreen for one full body application.
Slap on a hat – Wear a hat that shades your face, neck and ears. This includes legionnaire, broad-brimmed and bucket hats. Check to make sure the hat meets the Australian Standard. Choose fabric with a close weave that doesn’t let the light through. Baseball caps and sun visors do not offer enough protection.
Seek shade – Use shade from trees, umbrellas, buildings or any type of canopy. UV radiation from the sun is reflective and can bounce off surfaces, such as concrete, water, sand and snow, so shade should never be the only form of sun protection you use. If you can see the sky through the shade, even if the direct sun is blocked, the shade will not completely protect you from UV.
Slide on sunglasses – Protect your eyes with sunglasses that meet the Australian Standard. Wraparound styles are best. Sunglasses should be worn all year round to protect both the eyes and the delicate skin around the eyes.
Avoid solariums – Do not use solariums. Also known as tanning beds or sun lamps, solariums give off artificial UV radiation and are banned for commercial use in Australia.
Check daily sun protection times – Each day, use the free SunSmart app to check the recommended sun protection times in your local area.
Skin cancer treatments such as surgery, curettage and electrodesiccation, and cryotherapy often leave a scar. In most cases, your doctor will do everything they can to make the scar less noticeable. Most scars will fade with time. Skin treated with radiation therapy may change in colour, and appear lighter or darker depending on your skin tone.
You may worry about how the scar looks, especially if it’s on your face. Various cosmetics are available to help cover scarring. Your hairstyle or clothing might also cover the scar. Talk to your doctor about treatments that can help improve the appearance of scars.
You may want to talk to a counsellor, friend or family member about how you are feeling after any changes to your appearance.
Look Good Feel Better
Look Good Feel Better is a national program that helps people manage the appearance-related effects of cancer treatment. Workshops are run for men, women and teenagers. For information about services in your area, visit lgfb.org.au or call 1800 650 960.
This information is reviewed by
This information was last reviewed in December 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Stephen Shumack, Dermatologist, Royal North Shore Hospital and The University of Sydney, NSW; Dr Margaret Chua, Radiation Oncologist, Head of Radiation Oncology, Skin and Melanoma, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; John Clements, Consumer; Aoife Conway, Skin Lead and Radiation Oncology Nurse, GenesisCare, Mater Hospital, NSW; Sandra Donaldson, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Kath Lockier, Consumer; Dr Isabel Gonzalez Matheus, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Principal House Officer, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; A/Prof Andrew Miller, Dermatologist, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Dr Helena Rosengren, Chair Research Committee, Skin Cancer College of Australasia, and Medical Director, Skin Repair Skin Cancer Clinic, QLD; Dr Michael Wagels, Staff Specialist Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, Princess Alexandra Hospital and Surgical Treatment and Rehabilitation Service, and Senior Lecturer, The University of Queensland, QLD; David Woods,