Skin Cancer Recurrence – A Bigger Challenge Than Many Realize

After treatment, it can be worrisome that skin cancer may come back. That is called a recurrence. Skin cancer recurrence is very common.1

While skin cancer recurrence is common, that does not mean it is simple or easy to deal with. In fact, community members tell us it is a bigger challenge than many realize. We conducted our 4th Annual Skin Cancer In America survey to learn more about the impact of recurrence. More than 1,000 people with skin cancer completed the survey. As part of the survey, they also provided personal stories of their experiences living with recurrent skin cancer.*

Recurring melanoma

“Going on with your life thinking you are free of melanoma only to be reminded that you will never truly be free of it.”

Melanoma is not as common as other types of skin cancer, but it is considered more dangerous if it is not treated. People who have had melanoma are at higher risk for developing another melanoma or a different type of skin cancer.1,2

More than 30 percent of survey respondents with melanoma said they have had melanoma more than once. Melanoma can also come back years after it was originally treated. Some people with melanoma may never be fully cancer-free.1 32 percent have had melanoma more than 1 time.

Recurrent basal cell carcinoma

“Never knowing when a new one will pop up. Monday my husband had his Mohs, this time squamous, 16 staples in the arm.”

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. In most cases, it is easily treated. While it is very rare for basal cell cancer to spread, it can recur in the same place. People who have already had BCC are at higher risk for recurrence.3

More than 70 percent of survey respondents with basal cell carcinoma have had BCC more than once.
Studies show that recurrences are more likely to happen within 3 to 5 years of diagnosis.4 72 percent have had BCC more than once.

Recurrent squamous cell carcinoma

“Never knowing when a new one will appear! Will it be melanoma again? Or a squamous that needs Mohs surgery?”

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. It is usually treatable. People who have had SCC are at a higher risk of SCC recurrence in or near the same location.5

More than 60 percent of respondents said they have had SCC more than once. Research shows most people develop a recurrence within 2 years.5 62 percent have had SCC more than once.

The physical and emotional toll of recurrent skin cancer

Many survey respondents shared that they are affected mentally, emotionally, and physically by skin cancer and recurrence. While most skin cancers are treatable if caught early enough, respondents said the journey is difficult and it impacts them in many ways.

“We're never sure if we'll ever be truly cancer-free!! Anxiety can run high.”

“The complete lack of understanding the seriousness of this particular cancer...and living with facial scars.”

“Feeling like every change is a betrayal of your own body.”

Respondents shared that living with skin cancer and the potential for recurrence provoke fear, constant worry, and anxiety. The constant thought of having recurrence can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. Having scars can negatively impact self-esteem. Some also said they feel disappointed or betrayed by their bodies.

Skin cancer’s impact on daily life

“Giving up my full-time job as an acute care nurse. Side effects of treatment and frequent doctor visits keep me from being reliable. I also don't have the ability to pull the 12-hour shifts anymore.”

“Dreading what will turn up between 6-month visits. Anxiety is building up now. Checking and rechecking all over my body.”

Getting through daily life can be trying for people living with skin cancer. Self-checks, tests, doctor appointments, and repeated treatment can be tiresome, draining, and take up valued time. Skin cancer and treatment side effects of treatment can also impact a person’s ability to perform their job, daily tasks, and disrupt social engagements.

*Some personal responses were lightly edited for clarity or length.

The 4th Annual Skin Cancer In America survey was conducted online from February through May 2020. The survey was completed by 1,029 people.

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