Most often, non-melanoma skin cancer can be treated with relatively simple surgery, with the main side effect being possible scarring of the skin. Talk with your doctor about what scarring or other side effects you can expect before surgery begins. If the person treated for skin cancer is experiencing pain from surgery, he or she should speak with a pain management specialist to find ways to manage pain.
If the skin cancer has spread at the time of diagnosis, which is rare, cancer and its treatment can cause a variety of side effects. However, doctors have made major strides in recent years in reducing pain, nausea and vomiting, and other physical side effects of cancer treatments. Many treatments used today are less intensive but as effective as treatments used in the past. Doctors also have many ways to provide relief to patients when such side effects occur.
Fear of treatment side effects is common after a diagnosis of cancer, but it may be helpful to know that preventing and controlling side effects is a major focus of your health care team. Before treatment begins, talk with your doctor about possible side effects of the specific treatment you will be receiving. The specific side effects that can occur depend on a variety of factors, including the type of cancer, its location, the individual treatment plan (including the length and dosage of treatment), and your overall health. Common side effects for each treatment option are described in detail within the Treatment section.
Ask your doctor which side effects are most likely to happen (and which are not), when side effects are likely to occur, and how they will be addressed by the health care team. Also, be sure to communicate with the doctor about side effects you experience during and after treatment. Care of a patient's symptoms and side effects is an important part of a person's overall treatment plan; this is called palliative or supportive care. It helps people with cancer at any stage of illness be as comfortable as possible. Learn more about the the most common side effects of cancer and different treatments, along with ways to prevent or control them.
Be sure to talk with your doctor about the level of caregiving you may need during treatment and recovery, as family members and friends may play an important role in the care of a person with skin cancer. Learn more about caregiving.
In addition to physical side effects, there may be psychosocial (emotional and social) effects are well. For many patients, a diagnosis of skin cancer is stressful and can bring difficult emotions. Patients and their families are encouraged to share their feelings with a member of their health care team, who can help with coping strategies. Learn more about the importance of addressing such needs, including concerns about managing the cost of your medical care.
A side effect that occurs more than five years after treatment is called a late effect. Treatment of late effects is an important part of survivorship care. Learn more about late effects or long-term effects by reading the After Treatment section or talking with your doctor.