If you notice any suspicious growths, sores, or lumps on your body, see a medical professional as soon as possible. The first stop should be your general practitioner (GP) or other primary health care provider. Following an examination, if your doctor is concerned about a spot on your skin, he or she will determine that you need a biopsy to allow for a more accurate diagnosis.
Should there be cause for concern, your GP will refer you to a specialist. Below is a more comprehensive list of the various medical professionals who can assist you through diagnosis and treatment for melanoma.
Your general practitioner can provide a thorough examination of the suspicious area and measure moles for thickness. Additionally, your GP should be looking for any changes in shape, size, and color of existing moles, as well as inflammation, oozing or bleeding, and changes in sensation. For instance, your doctor should ask if you feel any pain on or around the mole or spot.
A dermatologist specializes in diseases and cosmetic problems concerning the skin, and can diagnose melanoma by examining your body using a device that magnifies the skin. The American Academy of Dermatology provides an excellent resource for locating any of its roughly 13, 700 members.
If melanoma is detected, surgery is often performed to remove the tumor. A surgical oncologist performs biopsies and surgical procedures; a plastic surgeon helps to minimize scarring.
This is a doctor who treats cancer patients, with radiation therapy serving as the main form of treatment.
The oncology nurse is a registered nurse who treats and cares for cancer patients. One of the primary roles is patient assessment and education.
A pathologist diagnoses and interprets changes caused by disease by studying the body’s tissues and body fluids. Based on lab tests, the pathologist can help your primary doctor diagnose your condition.
Depending on the severity and stress levels of a diagnosis and subsequent treatment, a psychologist may be able to provide emotional support.
Further methods of support can be found through the following sources:
- AMC Cancer Research Center: offers a national toll-free counseling line, short-term counseling, and referrals.
- American Melanoma Foundation: in addition to providing information regarding melanoma screening and clinical trials, AMF offers advice on joining or starting a support group.
- National Cancer Institute (NCI): provided by the U.S. government, this is a source for information as well as support services.
- The Wellness Community/Cancer Support Community: a nationwide community support group, this resource aims to limit isolation by bringing patients of all stages together.
Speaking with a qualified mental health expert may help melanoma patients deal with anxiety, depression, and any other concerns regarding the diagnosis and treatment of the disease. In addition, patients may want to participate in a support group to cope with changes in their lives, the fears they may be experiencing, and to combat isolation.
In a publication from the University of California, San Francisco, researchers touted the benefits of emotional support, stating, “in a randomized clinical trial, melanoma patients who participated in a six-session support group showed an improved emotional state and coping behavior, as well as better immune measures and a lower recurrence rate, than did patients in the control group.”
Your health and peace of mind come first. If you feel more comfortable getting a second opinion, don’t worry about hurting your doctor’s feelings. Seek the opinion of another specialist to see if he or she agrees with the original diagnosis and course of treatment. If you are not comfortable asking your primary doctor for a referral, there are resources, such as locating a local or state medical society directory, or requesting names from a local hospital.
Even if both doctors agree on the diagnosis and treatment, you will have taken steps to take control of your health, educating yourself along the way.
Factors to consider when looking for a doctor include:
- credentials: what is the background and education of this doctor?
- respect: does this doctor listen to you, and sincerely care about your needs?
- availability: how long will it take to get an appointment?