What you’ve heard is true:
Sunburns experienced early in life can cause skin cancer in later years.
This is helpful news for a generation of young adults who were brought up using sunscreen regularly. For the rest of us, however, this news isn’t exactly what we want to hear. After all, many of us spent our childhoods on the farm, in the fields or playing outside. Sunburns were simply the price you paid for time outdoors. This might lead you to believe that at this point in life, there’s no reason to protect your skin. After all, the damage has been done.
However, damage caused by the sun’s rays is cumulative, spanning a person’s entire lifetime in the sun. So, the sooner you start protecting your skin, the better your chances are of avoiding skin cancer.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more than 50 percent of deaths associated with skin cancer occur in people over age 65. However, as you get older, your skin gradually loses its ability to protect itself. Also, “new” sun exposure harms “old” sun damage. This prevents the skin’s ability to protect itself from cancer.
Your risks increase with age
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the number of skin cancer cases has been increasing steadily over the last few decades. Today, there are more skin cancers diagnosed in the U.S. each year than all other cancers combined.
What’s more, the odds of developing skin cancer go up as you age. In fact, between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have at least one skin cancer, says the Skin Care Foundation.
As the skin matures, it is also harder to detect clues of cancer on the skin. Wrinkles and decreased elasticity change the overall appearance of skin, making it harder to notice skin cancer warning signs.
Due to lower rates of sun protection, men over age 65 have a higher risk of melanoma than women over age 65. In fact, for men ages 80 and older, the incidence is three times higher than women of the same age.
Early detection starts with you
If you have skin cancer, finding it early is the best way to make sure it can be treated successfully.
In order to find cancer early, you need to become familiar with your skin and examine it, head-to-toe, every month. Watch for changes in size, shape or color of a mole or other skin lesion, the appearance of a new growth on the skin, or a sore that doesn’t heal. If you notice any spots on your skin that are different from the others, or anything changing, itching or bleeding, make an appointment with your personal doctor or a board-certified dermatologist.
See the list of preventive services covered by Medicare
Medicare covers these services if you have Medicare Part B (medical insurance).
Play it safe in the sun
Tips for older adults:
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Protect yourself against burns.
- Avoid sun tanning and never use tanning booths.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) 15 – 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply frequently, about every two hours, and more often when swimming or sweating heavily.
The easiest way to take care of your health
One of the easiest ways to protect your health is to stay up-to-date on your preventive screenings, tests and visits. Most preventive services are covered at no cost to you under the Medicare program. Most often, you won't have to pay anything for these services as long as your doctor agrees to charge only the set amount for the service approved by Medicare.
Source: Skin Cancer Foundation