Communication Is Key Before, During and After Melanoma Surgery


Robert Andtbacka, M.D., C.M., discusses the importance of communication between patients and health care professionals during melanoma surgery.

A melanoma diagnosis may be devastating for many but clear and open communication with the health care team, including the physicians, nurses and surgeons, can help to ease patients’ anxiety, says Robert Andtbacka, M.D., C.M., of Huntsman Cancer Institute. This is especially true when the treatment for the disease calls for surgery.

“I think that the toughest time for patients is really waiting to undergo surgery and seeing the physician for the first time,” Andtbacka said in an interview with CURE. “That’s really where my nursing staff is extremely important. Often they’ll call the patient before they come and see us to gauge their understanding of their disease and anxiety, I have found that it helps tremendously.”

After being diagnosed, fears that patients — many of whom are younger adults – have include how they’re going to function after the surgery and continue to work and provide for their families.

“The key after the operation is to really understand the potential complications of the surgery and also what kind of common difficulties patients may have after the surgery — both physically and emotionally,” Andtbacka said.

One key aspect of wound care that Andtbacka makes sure to go over is teaching patients who have had node dissections drain techniques. By reviewing this before the patient undergoes surgery, Andtbacka said that post-surgery complications have been drastically reduced.

“In our experience, that has cut down tremendously on the number of phone calls that we get about drains. It also cuts down the number of difficulties we have with the drains — just by having that teaching,” he said.

Just as it is important for the patient to understand how to empty their drain, it is equally important for the health care team to understand the patient’s family dynamic. After all, Andtbacka said, they are not just treating the patient, but the whole family.

“The family dynamics are absolutely key, and developing those relationships early helps the patient and his or her family get through the difficulties with melanoma,” he said.

Andtbacka mentioned that there are resources for patients who need to travel far away for cancer treatment, such as the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodges, a free place to stay for patients and their caregivers.

And if families don’t necessarily look toward their relatives for support, or wish to seek out other resources, Andtbacka mentioned that there are plenty of support groups in cities and towns across the nation that patients can seek out. Speaking to other people who have been in similar situations can be very helpful, Andtbacka said, noting that these things should not be pushed on the patient, either.

“We need to remember that patients might not be ready to do that right away. We need to give them all the available resources, and when they feel ready for that, at least they have the information to contact those resources.” Andtbacka said.

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