“If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
That’s the dilemma many of us face as our doctors seemingly try to inflict on us death by a thousand cuts: They snip a bit of skin cancer off a nose, another patch on an ear, and still another on a finger.
We’re now paying for all those bright days spent gardening, swimming and playing in the sun. Between 40% and 50% of Americans age 65 will have skin cancer at least once.
Skin Cancer Statistics
- Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.
- Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
- Nearly 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day.
- An estimated 161,790 new cases of melanoma, 74,680 noninvasive (in situ) and 87,110 invasive, will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2017.
- Invasive melanoma is projected to be the fifth most common cancer for men and the sixth most common cancer for women in 2017.
- Before age 50, melanoma has a higher incidence in women than in men, but by age 65, men’s rates are twice as high as women’s.
- The risk of developing melanoma is only .55% from birth to 49, but increases by 10 times once someone is 70 or older.
- Caucasians and men older than 50 have a higher risk of developing melanoma than the general population.
- In people of color, melanoma is often diagnosed at later stages, when the disease is more advanced.
- The vast majority of skin cancer deaths (9,730 estimated in 2017) are from melanoma.
- On average, one American dies from melanoma every hour.
There are 3 major types of skin cancer—basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma—as well as the lesser-known Merkel cell tumors and dermatofibrosarcoma protruberans.
Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cells carcinomas are the type your doctor cuts off. They’re malignant, but they are unlikely to spread to other parts of the body. However, if you don’t get them taken care of when they’re small, you may be disfigured, because they grow.
Malignant melanoma is a highly aggressive cancer that tends to spread to other parts of the body. Early treatment is key in preventing death.
Skin Cancer Targets Seniors
“The most striking differences in melanoma incidence and mortality occur in individuals over age 65, although modest differences in age-specific incidence and mortality are notable in those over age 50. Older individuals are both more likely to acquire and to die from melanoma,” notes a study in the journal Oncology.
Are You at Risk for Skin Cancer?
If you thought you’d catch a break because you live in northern climes, forget it. Residents of some cloudy states—Delaware, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Wyoming—have a higher risk of developing melanoma than Hawaii and Arizona. Of course, one reason may be that most of the states with high risk have a high percentage of fair-skinned people.
Risk factors for skin cancer include:
- Exposure to natural and artificial ultraviolet light
- Use of tanning salons
- Sunburn during childhood or adolescence (doubles the risk)
- Failure to use sun protection
- Fair skin and blond or red hair
- Immune system-suppressing diseases or treatments
- Large number of moles (over 50), atypical moles or large moles
- Family history of melanoma
How Do You Prevent Skin Cancer?
But it’s not too late to take care of your skin as you prepare to enjoy the soothing warmth of old Sol after the winter’s bitter chill. Preventing skin cancer is relatively simple. Protect yourself from the sun with clothing, sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) and staying in the shade. Also, do not use tanning beds or sun lamps.
Another important factor in catching melanoma before it becomes deadly is to perform skin self-exams every month and a skin examination by a doctor at least every year if you’re over 50. You may require more frequent exams if you have more risk factors, so ask your doctor.
The American Academy of Dermatology offers this advice about how to perform a skin self-exam:
- Examine your body front and back in the mirror, then look at the right and left sides with your arms raised.
- Bend elbows and look carefully at forearms, upper underarms and palms.
- Look at the backs of your legs and feet, the spaces between your toes, and the soles of your feet.
- Examine the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror. Part hair for a closer look.
- Finally, check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror.
How Can You Tell It’s Skin Cancer?
Warning signs include changes in the size, shape or color of a mole or any spot on your skin that is a different color or texture. Red or brown, scaly, rough skin should be checked out. If you find new growths, sores that don’t heal, or a spot that itches or bleeds, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends you see a board-certified dermatologist.
At Sugar Hill Retirement Community, we are committed to the health of seniors. That’s why we publish helpful information about the health, finances, and activities of older adults. Our goal is to help the residents of our cooperative retirement community live vibrant, full lives. Learn how by scheduling your tour today! 603-569-8485