Skin Safety: What Seniors Can Do to Prevent Melanoma

Sunrise Senior Living  |  April 29, 2019
Skin Safety: What Seniors Can Do to Prevent Melanoma
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Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in this country. It can impact people of all ages. Older adults who came of age when sunscreen use wasn’t widely promoted are at higher risk, as are younger adults who frequently use tanning beds.

One especially dangerous form is melanoma. It accounts for 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths.

To raise awareness about the risk factors for melanoma, the American Academy of Dermatology has designated the first Monday in May as National Melanoma Monday.

Melanoma is treatable with early intervention, which makes it important to understand the risk factors and symptoms. Here’s what you should know.

Risk Factors for Melanoma

Melanoma is the result of something going wrong in melanin-producing skin cells. While researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes it, there seem to be some common risk factors.

  • Fair skin: People who have fair skin tend to experience more sunburn, which puts them at higher risk for melanoma. This is especially true for Caucasians with blonde or red hair and blue or green eyes.
  • History of sunburn: Most skin damage occurs in childhood or young adulthood. However, suffering one or more blistering sunburns at any age can increase your odds of developing melanoma.
  • Moles: Though most moles don’t develop into melanoma, some do. The more moles you have, the higher your risk for melanoma.
  • Family history: About 10 percent of those diagnosed with melanoma have a first-degree relative with a history of the disease. First-degree relatives are parents, children, and siblings.
  • Exposure to ultraviolet radiation: The sun’s rays, tanning beds, and sun lamps are all sources of UV radiation. The more time you spend exposed to these sources, the higher your melanoma risk.
  • Where you live: People who live in higher elevations or close to the equator have increased risk. Researchers believe it is because they are exposed to more of the sun’s UV rays.
  • Weakened immune system: Those who have chronic health conditions or are undergoing treatment for cancer usually have weaker immune systems. That puts them at higher risk for melanoma, too.
  • Gender and age: Before the age of 50, women in this country are at higher risk for melanoma. After 50, the higher risk shifts to men.

Symptoms of Melanoma

In addition to recommending annual exams with a doctor, the American Academy of Dermatology encourages people to perform self-exams. They recommend using the ABCDEs of melanoma:

  • Asymmetrical: Moles where one half is unlike the other should be looked at by a physician.
  • Border: A mole that has an irregular or poorly shaped border can be another sign of melanoma.
  • Color: If a mole or moles are varied in color, call your physician or dermatologist to schedule an appointment. It may not be anything to worry about, but it could be an early symptom of melanoma.
  • Diameter: Moles the size of a pencil eraser (about 6 mm) should be looked at too.
  • Evolving: A mole or spot on the skin that is different than others or one that is changing in size or shape might be early melanoma.

You can download a body mole map at no cost to learn more about melanoma and conducting a full-body self-examination.

As is true of many health conditions, cancer prevention often begins with routine screenings. Read “Which cancer screenings do older adults need?” for guidelines on what screenings to discuss with your physician at every age.

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