Skin Cancer on the Rise Among Seniors

More seniors today are being diagnosed with skin cancer than their ascendants, and much of that is being attributed to lifestyle changes.Sun worshipping was not just a summertime activity in the 1970s, it was a ritual, and now seniors are suffering in part for the skin damage they incurred during younger days.

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More seniors today are being diagnosed with skin cancer than their ascendants, and much of that is being attributed to lifestyle changes.Sun worshipping was not just a summertime activity in the 1970s, it was a ritual, and now seniors are suffering in part for the skin damage they incurred during younger days.


A recent study conducted in Germany concluded that repeated sunburns during a lifetime increased the chances of melanoma later in life. In the United Kingdom, skin cancer is predicted to become the fourth leading cancer with 1/3 more cases being detected amongst seniors. With more than 10,000 melanoma related deaths in the UK every year, and more than 8,000 in the United States, early detection is more critical than ever.


One thing than makes diagnosis of skin cancer in senior citizens more difficult is how the skin changes with age. It's normal for new moles to develop on skin until about 40. After that, people see age spots, sagging, wrinkling and other normal age-related changes to skin. The signs to watch out for include a change in the size, color or shape of an existing mole, such as ragged edges that did not exist or the mole becomes raised. Scaly, itchy, bloody or oozy patches on the skin, or any strange blemish should be checked by a doctor.


A preliminary diagnosis of skin cancer is usually done visually by a trained physician. If you notice any changes on your skin, you should consult your doctor immediately. Skin cancer patient that are diagnosed and treated early have a much higher survival rate. If cancer is suspected, a biopsy may then be performed.


There are 2 types of biopsies that may occur at that stage. An excision biopsy cuts away the entire growth, which may remove all of the cancer without requiring further treatment. An incision biopsy only takes a sample of the potential cancer growth. If cancer is confirmed then further treatment will be needed.


Sun abuse is not the only reason seniors are at a higher risk for melanoma in our society. Another reason can be due to the introduction of the tanning bed, which was brought to the United States in 1978 and remained unregulated until 1988. Tanning bed laws were again updated in 1999. As popular as tanning beds are in the United States, they have an even higher usage rate in Europe where there is less natural sun exposure.


Hopefully, the public's raised awareness of sun protection and tanning bed regulations will help reverse the rate of increase for skin cancer. This should lead to a decrease in occurrences for future generations of seniors. Following precautionary guidelines such as wearing sunscreen, using proper cover-ups, like hats and sunglasses, and seeking shade instead of direct sunlight can help people reduce their risk to skin damage now. This will reduce their risk to melanoma later. In the meantime, seniors should arrange for regular skin cancer screenings with their doctors and educate themselves on what types of skin changes for which to be vigilant.

Blog written by Susan Evans, MD
Dr. Susan Evans is an internationally acclaimed, health and beauty expert one of Oprah's and Dr. Oz's healthy skin and beauty...