Coping with Scars
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2017. | Last updated: October 2020
For many with skin cancer, the primary concern that comes along with the condition is worrying if they will survive the disease. Followed closely behind, is the worry of long-lasting scars from skin cancer that can greatly affect the quality of life. Sometimes these fears are equal in weight or in the opposite order, as everyone’s mindset and battle can be incredibly different.
Even the most self-assured patient may feel anxious about a small marking, while others may not feel phased by a very prominent scar. Regardless of what category you are in, the way you handle and feel about your scars is completely normal and perfectly acceptable. Your body belongs to you and you only. However, if you are someone who is anxious about an upcoming procedure, a new scar, or even an old scar that hasn’t quite healed the way you hoped it would, please read on for some additional ideas on how to combat these feelings.
Finding emotional support
Skin cancer scars can often lead to depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, lifestyle changes, fears of leaving the house or meeting new individuals, or difficulties in completing daily activities and sleeping. In some cases, skin cancer and its scars can even lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s perfectly normal to need an additional hand when dealing with any or all of these symptoms. It’s also completely normal to want support even without any of these issues, to prevent from developing them later! Finding and developing a strong support network can be essential in overcoming the emotional and social impact of skin cancer scars.
Your support system can include your healthcare team, who may point you in the right direction towards support groups or other patients struggling with their scars. It can also include family, friends, and even co-workers, who are by your side to boost you up when needed.
It’s up to you to determine who you tell about your condition, and what you want to tell others if asked. Regardless of who you include in your support network, know it’s always on your terms and your choice. If you feel like additional outside support is necessary, therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is often a positive outlet for working through emotions. Oftentimes, CBT doesn’t even require a referral, and therapists are located all over, even by phone for those who aren't able to visit an office.
Taking it slow
Scars of any kind, including skin cancer scars, can take over a year, if not two years, to reach their full healing potential. While some may heal faster than others, it’s important to remember that this process will take time. Further medical intervention may be necessary at the end of the healing process, however, until then, scar appearance may fluctuate and take many different turns.
Oftentimes, factors out of your control can affect how you heal, including genetics, your environment, other health conditions, age, and irradiation history. Being patient with your body and following your doctor's recommendations during the healing process, however long it may take, will lead to your body’s best natural results. After the natural healing process is complete, you and your provider can determine what the best course of action is for your specific situation.
Non-surgical interventions for skin cancer scars
Sometimes non-surgical interventions can be taken during the natural healing process, and other times they may need to wait until that process is complete. Keeping an open line of communication with your provider can be helpful, as they can point you in the right direction when it comes to non-surgical interventions for reducing scar appearance. These can include make-up products, silicone gels, steroid injections, tattoos, topical products, dermabrasion, cryotherapy, pressure therapy, radiation, or laser technologies. Treating yourself to a visit with a makeup specialist who can show you the best products and ways to conceal scars can be an effective, and stress-relieving experience.
Medical and surgical options
When scars do not heal the way we want them to, there are surgical options your provider may be able to provide. These include Z-plasty, W-plasty, and geometric broken line closure, among others. In regards to the face, these procedures aim to do many things, including relocate stitches and scars to areas of the face without tension and/or to natural facial lines in order to hide them more effectively.
Meeting with other individuals who have had reconstruction by a particular physician may be a helpful experience to see how their surgery or revision healed and to get an idea of what you may expect. Revision surgeries are not an option for everyone, but talking to a plastic surgeon or dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer can always help shed some light on what is appropriate for your situation.