If you have a mole, freckle or bump on your skin that concerns you, start by making an appointment with your doctor. If your doctor suspects you may have skin cancer, you'll likely be referred to a skin specialist (dermatologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well-prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What can you do
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
- Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
- Consider taking along a family member or friend. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember all the information provided during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For Merkel cell carcinoma, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What is likely causing my symptoms or condition?
- Are there other possible causes for my symptoms or condition?
- What kinds of diagnostic tests do I need? How are these tests performed?
- What are my treatment options?
- How will you check my response to treatment?
- How likely is my condition to recur? What treatment options would be available in that case?
- What follow-up tests will I need to monitor for recurrence?
- I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there any restrictions that I need to follow?
- Should I see a specialist? What will that cost, and will my insurance cover it?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask:
- When did you first notice your symptoms?
- How have your symptoms changed over time?
- Does anything seem to improve your symptoms?
- Have you spent a lot of time in the sun, or have you used tanning beds?
- Do you have a history of other skin conditions, such as skin cancer or psoriasis? What treatments have you received for those conditions?
- Have you been diagnosed with any immune system disorders? If so, what treatments have you received?
- Have you been diagnosed or treated for any other health conditions?
Dec. 09, 2015
- Niederhuber JE, et al., eds. Nonmelanoma skin cancers. In: Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Aug. 5, 2015.
- Merkel cell carcinoma. Fort Washington, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/f_guidelines.asp. Accessed Aug. 5, 2015.
- Merkel cell carcinoma treatment (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/patient/merkel-cell-treatment-pdq#section/all. Accessed Sept. 3, 2015.
- Prevent skin cancer. American Academy of Dermatology. http://www.aad.org/spot-skin-cancer/learn-about-skin-cancer/prevent-skin-cancer. Accessed Sept. 3, 2015.
- Tai, P. Pathogenesis, clinical features, and diagnosis of Merkel cell (neuroendocrine) carcinoma. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 5, 2015.
- Church CD, et al. How does the Merkel polyomavirus lead to a lethal cancer? Many answers, many questions and a new mouse model. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 2015;135:1222.