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Melanoma: Tips for talking with your dermatologist

Have you been diagnosed with melanoma? Are you going through treatment?

If you feel stressed about your diagnosis or treatment, it can be difficult to listen. Too often, our minds just wander. This can make it challenging to understand medical information and instructions.

Good two-way communication, however, is important. Studies show that effective communication between a patient and doctor during cancer care can improve results.

The following tips can help you get the information you need. These tips can also help make sure you give your dermatologist essential information.

Take a family member or close friend with you

Having someone you trust at your appointments can be helpful and comforting. This dermatologist is meeting with his patient and her daughter.

A dermatologist meets with his patient and her daughter

What to tell your dermatologist

You can improve communication by telling your dermatologist the following about yourself.

  1. How much information you want. Some people want details like the risks and benefits of treatment, expected results, and how treatment will affect their everyday life.

    Other patients feel overwhelmed with so much information and just want to know what treatment the dermatologist recommends.

    Think about how much detail you want, and tell your dermatologist.

  2. Honest answers to questions that may seem embarrassing or irrelevant, such as:

    • Do you smoke, drink, or tan?
    • What medicines, supplements, and herbs, do you you take?
    • Are you using any other treatment for the cancer? (Be sure to tell your dermatologist about any home remedies and alternative treatments.)
    It's important to answer honestly. Your dermatologist is asking because these things can affect your treatment.

Tips to help you understand — and remember — what your dermatologist tells you

When we're stressed, it can be difficult to remember what we hear. The following tips can help you get the information you need.

  1. Bring a laptop or pad of paper to your appointments. Even if you just want basic information, it can be hard to remember what your dermatologist says. Taking notes can help you know what you need to do next and make informed decisions about your cancer care.

    Keeping notes also gives you a place to jot down questions that you may think of after the appointment so that you can ask them later.

  2. Take a family member or close friend with you. It's understandable that you feel shaken. You may feel too stressed to listen well or take notes. Having a trusted family member or close friend take notes and ask questions can be very helpful.

  3. Ask for an explanation if anything your dermatologist says seems unclear. Medical jargon lets doctors communicate very specific information clearly to other doctors and medical professionals. For example, saying that a patient has melanoma in a certain stage can give another doctor important information.

    When speaking with you, though, your dermatologist should use everyday language. Still, if something is unclear, be sure to tell your dermatologist.

    If anything is unclear, speak up

    If something is unclear, let your dermatologist know. It’s important to understand what you need to do.

    Man looking at question marks expressing confusion

What to do at the end of each appointment

Before leaving, it's important to know what you need to do next. Taking a minute to do the following can help.

  1. Quickly summarize the important points that you heard. It can be helpful to end your appointment.

  2. Request time to make a decision. You want to feel comfortable with the decisions you make. Ask how long you can have to make a decision.

  3. Ask whom you can contact if you have questions later. Most patients say they wish they had asked certain questions during the appointment but thought of the questions later.

Getty Images

National Cancer Institute. “Communication in Cancer Care (PDQ®)–Patient Version.” Last update March 27, 2015. Last accessed June 27, 2016