Bright skies, pool days, and a large glass of iced tea in hand. Summer days are for relaxing and soaking up the sun. But before relaxing, necessary precautions are critical to avoiding the risks of harmful UV rays.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S, affecting over a million individuals each year. And seniors by nature of living the longest have the largest accumulative sun exposure. According to skincancer.org, white men over 55 make up a majority of melanoma diagnoses.
And while 10 minutes uncovered in the sun is good for Vitamin D absorption, covering up and wearing the proper sunscreen is necessary to a truly worry-free summer. Even if a senior didn’t grow up wearing sunscreen, they will benefit from starting a new habit of skin protection. Realizing skin cancer basics and knowing precautionary measures will benefit the aging process.
Three types of skin cancer:
Basal and Squamous are more common and less threatening. Melanoma is not as common and a more dangerous type of cancer. Melanoma spreads quickly and is life threatening. Melanocytes produce melanin, which gives skin its color. People with darker skin have more melanin and better protection from UV light than people with lighter skin.
To avoid over exposure to the sun, it’s important to cover up in light/white clothing and avoid peak hours of the sun (10-2). Sunscreen should be worn whenever you go outside, even if it’s just a trip to the grocery store or looks cloudy outside.
Certain characteristics increase your risk of melanoma, including:
- Family history of melanoma
- Use of tanning booths
- Fair skinned, blond hair, blue eyes
- Over 20 years of age
Seniors and caregivers of seniors should be vigilant in checking for the signs of skin cancer. Moles are a typical feature of the skin and usually harmless. An ordinary mole is evenly colored brown or black. It’s round or oval and can be flat or elevated. Moles should general stay the same over several years. However, certain characteristics indicate a cancerous mole and should be inspected by a dermatologist immediately.
Recognizing risky moles is to using the ABCDE’s of skin cancer basics:
- Asymmetry: when one side does not match the other side
- Border: if the border is irregular, blurry, notched
- Color: the same spot includes different shades of black or brown and is not even throughout, may also include pink, white, blue, or red
- Diameter: the spot is larger than about ¼ inch, melanoma can be smaller than this but larger is definitely a warning sign
- Evolving: if the spot or moles changes in shape, color, or size
- Itchiness or pain
- Oozing or bleeding
- A sore that never heals
- Swelling beyond the border
Regular check ups with the dermatologist, along with vigilance in monitoring moles and spots, makes all the difference in catching skin cancer early. Basal and squamous cells can be treated fairly easily if caught early. An early diagnosis of Melanoma is especially important as catching it early may mean the only chance of recovery.