5.2 Follow-up care

5.2 Follow-up care

Responsibility for follow-up care should be agreed between the lead clinician, the general practitioner, relevant members of the multidisciplinary team and the patient. This is based on guideline recommendations for post-treatment care, as well as the patient’s current and anticipated physical and emotional needs and preferences.

Evidence comparing shared follow-up care and specialised care indicates equivalence in outcomes including recurrence rate, cancer survival and quality of life (Cancer Research in Primary Care 2016).

Ongoing communication between healthcare providers involved in care and a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities is key to effective survivorship care.

In particular circumstances, other models of post-treatment care can be safely and effectively provided such as nurse-led models of care (Monterosso et al. 2019). Other models of post-treatment care can be provided in these locations or by these health professionals:

  • in a shared care setting
  • in a general practice setting
  • by non-medical staff
  • by allied health or nurses
  • in a non-face-to-face setting (e.g. by telehealth).

A designated member of the team should document the agreed survivorship care plan. The survivorship care plan should support wellness and have a strong emphasis on healthy lifestyle changes such as a balanced diet, a non-sedentary lifestyle, weight management and a mix of aerobic and resistance exercise (COSA 2018; Hayes et al. 2019).

This survivorship care plan should also cover, but is not limited to:

  • what medical follow-up is required (surveillance for melanoma spread, recurrence or secondary and metachronous cancers, screening and assessment for medical and psychosocial effects)
  • model of post-treatment care, the health professional providing care and where it will be delivered
  • care plans from other health providers to manage the consequences of melanoma and melanoma treatment
  • wellbeing, primary and secondary prevention health recommendations that align with chronic disease management principles
  • rehabilitation recommendations
  • available support services
  • a process for rapid re-entry to specialist medical services for suspected recurrence.

Survivors generally need regular follow-up, often for five or more years after melanoma treatment finishes. The survivorship care plan therefore may need to be updated to reflect changes in the patient’s clinical and psychosocial status and needs.

Processes for rapid re-entry to hospital care should be documented and communicated to the patient and relevant stakeholders.

Surveillance after curative treatment for melanoma can be as follows:

  • tumours less than 1 mm thick: follow-up for two years unless the patient is at high risk for a second primary melanoma due to high naevus numbers, multiple dysplastic naevi or a history of melanoma in close relatives (patients should be seen four- to six-monthly for two years and then less frequently, according to risk factors, for an indefinite period)
  • tumours more than 1 mm thick: follow-up three- to four-monthly for the first two years, six-monthly review to five years, and lifelong yearly review thereafter
  • stage III disease: follow-up three- to four-monthly for the first two years, six-monthly for the next two to three years, and then as deemed clinically necessary.

Imaging may be required according to clinical indication and stage of disease.

Once the intense follow-up has finished, there should be a minimum of annual skin surveillance.

Follow-up assessment should include a comprehensive history and examination including examination of the primary site and lymph nodes and potential sites of metastases and a full skin assessment.

Patients should be made aware that skin self-examination is essential.

Preventative information about sun protection should be provided to patients to prevent future skin cancers.

After the removal or local treatment of a primary melanoma, in most circumstances follow-up care can safely and effectively be provided in the general practice setting. For patients who have had treatment for metastatic melanoma, the short-term follow-up should be shared between the specialist and the general practitioner until specialist assessment is no longer considered necessary. It is important that post-treatment care is based on evidence and is consistent with guidelines.

The lead clinician should discuss (and general practitioner reinforce) options for follow-up at the start and end of treatment. It is critical for optimal aftercare that the designated member of the treatment team educates the patient about the symptoms of recurrence.

General practitioners (including nurses) can:

  • connect patients to local community services and programs
  • manage long-term and late effects
  • manage comorbidities
  • provide wellbeing information and advice to promote self-management
  • screen for cancer and non-cancerous conditions.
More information

Templates and other resources to help with developing treatment summaries and survivorship care plans are available from these organisations:

  • Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre
  • Cancer Australia – Principles of Cancer Survivorship
  • Cancer Council Australia and states and territories
  • Clinical Oncology Society of Australia – Model of Survivorship Care
  • eviQ – Cancer survivorship: introductory course
  • MyCarePlan.org.au
  • South Australian Cancer Service – Statewide Survivorship Framework resources
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology – guidelines

Being SunSmart (especially during sun protection times), not smoking, eating a healthy diet, avoiding or limiting alcohol intake, being physically active and maintaining a healthy body weight may help reduce the risk of primary recurrence or a second primary cancer.

Encourage and support all melanoma survivors to reduce modifiable risk factors for recurrence as well as other chronic diseases. Ongoing coordination of care between providers should also deal with any comorbidities, particularly ongoing complex and life-threatening comorbid conditions.