The Challenges of Skin Cancer Care During a Pandemic

Anyone living through melanoma knows that part of the “treatment” plan is not a treatment at all. Of all the cancers in all the lands, skin cancer holds two distinctions – it is the most common cancer on the planet, and the most visually identifiable. Diligence in prevention and detection is a must for anyone with a history or risk of skin cancer and melanoma.

Dealing with skin cancer during COVID-19

However, health care sure took quite a turn in 2020, and no one can be blamed for putting off doctors’ visits they deem non-essential. The question becomes, what isn’t essential, what is, and how do we handle those cancer-related health visits amid COVID-19?

Late-stage treatment

Oncologists? Essential. If you are currently in treatment for later-stage melanoma, this should be a no-brainer; that treatment means cancer has an exponentially higher chance of killing you than COVID-19. I know of few, if any cancers, with systemic therapies that offer a 95%+ survival rate. Please, if you are on treatment, talk to your doctor about how to continue treatment in the most risk-avoidance way possible.

Telemedicine visits

Also, be prepared for some changes, especially if you are no longer on active treatment. Telemedicine capabilities have been ramping up over the last decade, and virtual clinical trials – not even a mainstream “thing” until Novartis’ remote trial in 20111 – have made the exercise of going to the doctor’s office another convenience of the iPhone age. I had my first oncologist “visit” over the phone, and while, yes, it was different, the questions and concerns were the same. Be prepared to more thoroughly explain your health to the doctor who can’t touch (and might not be able to see) you. And remember, this is new for them, too. Have a little patience and be glad the “waiting room” is your sofa.

Regular dermatologist visits

Dermatologist? Hopefully, by the time this is published, it is a reality in some parts of the US. During the peak of the crisis, I would have chosen not to go – if the office was even open at all. It’s not that this is unimportant; it is just less threatening at the moment than a virus with no cure and no vaccine. If there are concerning spots, take a photo and monitor them until it is safe to get back into their office. If you are not sure if there are concerning spots, then that is a sign to do a self-examination of your skin. Just be sure that pushing pause on your dermatologist is not the same as pushing off.

Beware of delayed appointments

My dermatologist called and tried to reschedule me for NOVEMBER. I usually get seen every four months and was due in June, so this would be effectively “skipping a dose.” Except it would be skipping ALL summer – you know, the time of the year where we are all (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway) most susceptible to harmful UV rays. Going through spring and summer with a history of melanoma and only my untrained eyes on potential trouble spots is not the combination I am looking for.

Control what you can during COVID-19

The importance of self-examinations and understanding the signs of skin cancers, particularly melanomas, have never been as vital. We don’t know what health challenges are lying in wait with COVID-19. With a majority of non-coronavirus clinical research slowed or halted, those fantastic breakthroughs in cancer research are going to take longer to get to patients. In other words...the next year or so is NOT when you want to add a melanoma diagnosis on top of an unstable global healthcare system. Keep up with your oncologist, keep that dermatologist appointment on your radar, and keep staying safe as our country slowly opens back up.

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