Senior Resources » How Common is Skin Cancer in Seniors?

How Common is Skin Cancer in Seniors?

Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70? While it’s the most common cancer in the United States, the good news is that it’s also the most preventable! Recognizing the signs and symptoms of skin cancer can lead to early detection and treatment, significantly improving outcomes. If you’re an older adult concerned you either have skin cancer or might develop it, you’re in the right place. Here’s everything you need to know.


Identifying Skin Cancer

When it comes to identifying skin cancer, self-examination plays a crucial role. Self-exams should be done regularly, preferably after a bath or shower when the skin is clean and well-lit. During a self-exam, pay close attention to any moles, blemishes, or birthmarks from the top of your head to your toes. recommends the following method to examine your skin:

  1. Face the mirror: Check your face, neck, ears, chest, and stomach. Women will also need to check the skin beneath their breasts. Be sure to also check your underarms, the tops of your palms, between your fingers, and even under your fingernails!
  2. Sit down: After you check the previously mentioned areas, be sure to also check your thighs, shins, feet, and even between your toes and under your toenails. Also, use a hand mirror to examine the bottoms of your feet, your calves, and the backs of your thighs.
  3. Stand up: Use the hand mirror to also check your buttocks, lower and upper back, genital area, neck, and eras.
  4. Grab a comb: Now, it’s time to check your scalp! After you get a comb or hand dryer, part your hair and thoroughly examine your scalp.

What’s the ABCDE Rule?

The ABCDE rule provides a simple method to remember the warning signs of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

  • Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other half.
  • Border irregularity: The edges are ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • Color variation: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of black, brown, or tan.
  • Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters in diameter (about the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
  • Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.

Other Types of Skin Cancer

skin care

While melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, there are other types of skin cancer to be on the lookout for. Symptoms vary depending on the location of the cancer and the type of cancer you have.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

This type of skin cancer usually appears in places that are most commonly exposed to the sun. The face, neck, hands, legs, and arms are common target areas. Symptoms of basal cell carcinoma may include:

  • A bloody sore that doesn’t heal or is recurring
  • Waxy bump with a pearly sheen
  • Scar-like patches
  • A white bump without defined edges

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Like basal cell carcinoma, this type of skin cancer often appears in areas of the body that are frequently exposed to harmful UV rays. However, it can affect other areas of the body that aren’t exposed to sunlight, especially in darker skin tones. Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma include:

  • Sores inside the mouth
  • A flat, scaly sore
  • A new sore on an old scar
  • A pink, red, or brown nodule

What Are Other Signs of Skin Cancer?

Experts say that any new or changing spots that last for two weeks or more should warrant a doctor’s visit. While skin cancer often displays no symptoms in the early stages, symptoms may later include:

  • Itchy or painful spots
  • Skin growths
  • Scabs
  • Sores that don’t resolve
  • New spots on the skin or changes in the size, shape, and color of existing spots
  • Growths that resemble warts
  • A scar-like spot without a definable border

While photos can be helpful, getting your skin examined by a board-certified dermatologist is the most vital step in identifying and treating skin cancer!

Click HERE to visit the Skin Cancer Foundation’s skin cancer image gallery.

Risk Factors for Developing Skin Cancer

Anyone can get skin cancer at any age. However, certain factors can increase the risk of developing skin cancer. These include:

  • Sun exposure: Long-term exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays or history of sunburns can increase the risk of skin cancer.
  • Skin type: People with fair skin, light hair, and blue or green eyes have a higher risk of skin cancer.
  • Family history: Having a family history of skin cancer can increase your risk.
  • Age: While skin cancer can occur at any age, the risk increases as you get older due to cumulative sun exposure.
  • Certain types of moles: Having large or numerous moles can increase the risk of melanoma.

How Can I Prevent Skin Cancer?

woman in garden taking photo

While skin cancer is certainly a scary diagnosis, it can be prevented! The best and most effective way to prevent skin cancer is to avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight. Some of the preventative measures you can take may include:

  1. Use sunscreen with SPF15 or higher.
  2. Avoid tanning beds.
  3. Examine your skin frequently.
  4. Stay out of the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  5. Wear long sleeves, hats, or other coverings when in the sun.
  6. Seek shade.
  7. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, especially after swimming or sweating.
  8. Apply sunscreen over every bit of exposed skin.
  9. Use self-tanning products instead of sunbathing or using tanning beds.
  10. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes and face.

To Sum It Up

Early detection of skin cancer is crucial and can be achieved through regular self-examinations and professional skin checks. If you have a family history of skin cancer, make a point to visit a dermatologist at least once a year. Additionally, always wear sunscreen—even if you’re not going to be outside long. Remember—it’s always better to be safe than sorry!


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Originally published November 03, 2023

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