As senior citizens, many decades have been spent in the sun and our immune systems aren’t what they used to be. It’s important that we take the facts seriously: The American Cancer Society tells us that we are the most likely demographic to acquire Melanoma, a skin cancer that can be deadly if not caught and treated early.
The word Melanoma means “black tumor.” It is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. It grows quickly and can spread to any other organ. It isn’t something we should fear; but we should work to prevent it and quickly check any suspicious spots that emerge.
Recent skin cancer studies reveal some good news and some bad news. The good news is for the younger generations, Melanoma is on the decrease. The bad news, however, is that the geriatric population continues to see a rise in skin cancer, with 50% of Melanoma deaths occurring in the population of white men over 50 years of age. If left untreated, this skin cancer can become life-threatening in as little as six weeks.
As we age, we naturally develop pigment changes in our skin, often referred to as “age spots.” It’s critical to know the difference between the simple aging process and something that needs immediate attention. If you are one who has a lot of dark moles, be aware of any that look different from all the others. Often identified by its jagged-edge shape, variation in color, and speed of change, it is important to be familiar with the visual characteristics of Melanoma.
A seemingly unlikely place for skin cancer to reside is under a fingernail or toenail. Easily mistaken for a blood blister, if a dark spot doesn’t grow out over time, it is a good reason to see the dermatologist. It seems an unlikely place for skin cancer to reside, but it is actually quite feasible. Some more uncommon locations that especially people of color need to watch carefully are the soles of feet, palms, even a dark spot in the eye or mouth could be an uncommon but often extremely dangerous place to find Melanoma.
In addition to age, there are some factors that tend to increase the risk of developing Melanoma. Light-colored hair or skin, skin that burns or freckles easily, individuals with blue or green eyes, and most importantly a person with family history of skin cancer are reasons to be extra cautious, especially when entering into the geriatric years.
Studies are now revealing that a small number of Melanomas are not related to the sun, rather environmental pollutants and chemicals, even some viruses! However, most skin cancers are caused from sunlight, so it’s important to be proactive. Many blood pressure medications and diuretics cause increased sensitivity to sunlight and increase risk as well. Be sure to wear sunscreen and sunglasses every time you step outside.
Some simple precautions and self-awareness will make a tremendous difference in the Melanoma statistics. We want our seniors to enjoy the longest, healthiest life they can!