How Often Should I See My Dermatologist?

My dermatologist said to me, “Well, it looks like we got all the skin cancer out. Those melanomas are tricky, but as you know, we took out a lot of skin and were not able to close the surgical incision. Come back in a few weeks, and my physician’s assistant will remove the stitches."

Waiting a year to see the dermatologist?

"After that, I will see you in a year or so. I think I am going on a cruise at this time next year, so it might be longer.”

Wait, what? A year after melanoma? Shouldn’t I see you before then?

More recently, another dermatologist said to me, “I froze some spots and removed some precancerous-looking moles for biopsy. Call the office at the end of next week to get the biopsy results and I will see you in a year.” 

Wait, cryotherapy and mole removal means waiting another year for an appointment? You don’t want to see me sooner? How does that work? Did you remove skin cancer?

You want to see me in three months?

Even more recently, another dermatologist explained, “Everything looks good. No skin cancer at all. Make an appointment for three months.”

Wait, I need to see you in three months after a completely clean report? Melanoma got me a full year, and you want to see me quarterly for a clean appointment? This makes no sense to me.

Yes, all three scenarios have happened to me. I have been completely bewildered by how often I should see my dermatologist. As a melanoma survivor, I have always wanted to be cautious, but what is the best course of action given my medical history, my current situation, and the future I want? Let’s break this down.

What should determine the schedule?

Here is what I believe should be taken into consideration when deciding how often to see a dermatologist.

  • What are you comfortable with? How often do you want to be seen based on how you feel about your current situation? Ultimately, the patient should have the most say, but unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out this way.
  • What can you afford? Some insurance plans limit the amount of physician visits and will not cover anything beyond those limits. Many of us do not have insurance at all, and this limits our options.
  • How often can the doctor see you?  Many people simply don’t have easy access to dermatologists. Sometimes, they live far away and can’t take off work. Sometimes, there are too few dermatologists for a given population, and just getting an appointment is a challenge.
  • How often does the doctor want to see you?  Dermatologists may have different approaches when it comes to seeing patients. Some are very cautious, and others less so. This could be based on their training, experience, or other factors. It takes two to make an appointment, and some dermatologists want to see their patients more often than others.

Working with your dermatologist to adjust the visit schedule

Here are some suggestions.

  • Communicate with your doctor. Tell them about your preferences and sensitivities. Ask them questions and get clarity if the time between appointments seems too long or too brief.
  • Ask them if it is okay to set up in-between appointments if you are concerned about a mole, spot, or lesion. Most dermatologists will try to fit you in, especially if you have had a past skin cancer diagnosis. 
  • If you have insurance, get a clear understanding of what is and what is not covered. If you do not have insurance, then do some research to find discounted or free clinics in your area.  Maybe a local university with a medical school can assist you.
  • Have a conversation with your employer about coverage or being given time off to travel for an out of town appointment.

What about you? What are your thoughts on this?

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