The past few decades have seen a sudden rise in the incidence of skin cancer. Especially in the elderly population. According to Cancer Research UK. Seniors are more likely to not be aware of the harmful effects of sun exposure. This fuels the development of skin cancer in this age group. Furthermore, seniors are less likely to visit their doctor, when they spot a new mole. The doctor should check if there is a sudden change in the appearance of a mole. And change in its characteristics without any delay. This will help in diagnosing the condition in its early stages. Helping the way for better management of the condition. This, further indicates, that when they find a diagnosis of the deadly condition. The cancer is already in its most advanced stage. All these factors put together can make life really difficult for our elderly loved ones.
Skin cancer in the elderly
There are 3 types of skin cancer. This includes squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. Of these, basal cell carcinoma is the most common form, accounting for about 65–85% of the cases of skin cancer. Whereas, the risk of developing malignant melanoma increases, as people age. And the average age of diagnosis is 63 years. Of the 3 types of skin cancer, malignant melanoma is to be the deadliest form. And it is the most major cause of death due to skin cancer.
Below is a brief description of each type of skin cancer. To help with a better understanding of the condition.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma, abbreviated as SSC, is the development of a malignant tumor. That is locally invasive and can even spread to other organs of the body. Seniors, who are living with a compromised immune system for several years are more prone to develop squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.
Basal cell carcinoma
As already stated, basal cell carcinoma is the commonest amongst all the 3 forms of skin cancer. It is widespread in UK, USA, Australia and the rest of Europe.
Malignant melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and accounts for a vast majority of deaths in the US. In this type of cancer, melanoma develops in the trunk or extremities. But can even occur in other areas of the body, such as gut or the mouth, eyes or inside the nasal lining. The melanomas develop around an existing mole, and the tumors are black in color, as the cells continue to produce melanin. It is necessary to remove the melanomas in its preliminary stage, that is when the tumor is thin layered. If necessary action is not initiated at the right time. Then it can spread to other body parts, making the condition serious.
Factors that fuel the development
There are several factors, which can cause skin cancer in the elderly population. Understanding the same will help our elderly take precautions. And decrease their chances of developing skin cancer.
Exposure to ultraviolet rays
This is one of the major factors, that increases the chances of developing skin cancer. Exposing the skin to the ultraviolet rays is not good. This includes not only sunlight but also tanning beds and sun lamps. Seniors who expose themselves to the sun between 10 am to 4 pm or who frequently make use of the tanning beds. Run a high risk of developing skin cancer. Furthermore, the number of sunburns our elderly suffer from. Also potentially doubles their risk of developing skin cancer.
Decreased or a compromised immunity profile
As we age, our immune system also diminishes. Increasing our chances of developing many disease conditions. In addition, undergoing immune suppression therapy, that comes with organ transplantation. Also significantly increases the chances of contracting skin cancer.
With age, the skin of our elderly tend to become thin and the fat deposits wither away. As a result of this, the skin easily absorbs ultraviolet rays. This potentially increases the risk of skin cancer.
Many times, moles are a normal part of aging. And are pretty harmless, with minimum chances of developing into skin cancer. However, if there are a large number of moles, which tend to change in characteristics. Then it is always better to contact the doctor immediately. Experts say that seniors who develop dysplastic nevi moles. Increases their risk of suffering from melanoma by 10 percent. Even though not all dysplastic nevi moles are dangerous. It is still necessary that our seniors to make regular visits to the dermatologist. This will rule out any unfavorable development.
The color of the skin
Fair colored individuals are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer. As compared to the dark-skinned beauties. The risk of melanoma is also higher in those individuals with blond or red hair. Those having blue or green eyes also run a higher degree of risk. In comparison to their black or brown-eyed counterparts.
Certain types of viruses, especially human papillomavirus infections. Are also known to increase the risk of skin cancer in seniors.
Symptoms of skin cancer
The symptoms may vary with the type of skin cancer that has developed. Here is a brief explanation of the nature of symptoms for each type of skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma:
Pale patches or waxy translucent bumps develop on the skin of the neck or head region.
If the tumor develops in the chest region, it may appear to be flesh-colored or a brown colored scar.
The lesions may bleed, ooze and may develop a crust over it.
Squamous cell carcinoma:
The carcinoma develops as lumps. Which have a rough surface and is very different from basal cell carcinoma.
In the absence of a nodule, there develops a scaly patch, red in color and refuses to go away. The patches become stubborn and multiply in numbers over time.
The lumps or patches usually develop in the head, neck or arms. But, in many cases, it can also be in the genital regions.
Malignant tumor cells originate from melanin. Which is the pigment-producing melanocytes situated in the basal layer of our skin.
The tumors often resemble moles. Which are usually black or brown colored, but in many cases, can also be pink, white, red, purple or even blue colored.
Experts have given an ABCDE sign for recognizing melanoma – these are
A – Asymmetry – Development of an asymmetrical mole. Which does not have even sides, is an indication of melanoma.
B – Border – The borders of melanoma moles are not even.
C – Colors of malignant melanoma moles have several shades of brown or black. In many cases, it can also become red or purple.
D – Diameter: Malignant moles have a large diameter as compared to benign moles.
E – Evolving – If you notice, any kind of change in the shape, size, color, in an existing mole. It is best to bring it to the doctor’s notice. In addition, if there is sudden bleeding, itching or crusting in the existing moles. It is also necessary to let the doctor know.
Tips to reduce the risk of skin cancer
Skin cancer is a preventable condition. And if we urge our seniors to take appropriate precautions. Then they would certainly save the agony and sufferings of developing the condition. Here are certain tips, for our elderly loved ones to stay safe from skin cancer.
As far as possible, limit and prevent exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. This is the best way to prevent skin cancer. When your seniors are outdoors. Make them wear a broad spectrum sun protective lotion (of at least SPF 30 or even higher), and a wide-brimmed hat. Don’t let them roam in the sun during between 10 am to 4 pm; This is when the rays during this period are most harmful.
Pay special attention to their clothing. And ensure that they wear long sleeve shirt and full pants.
Wear UV protective sunglasses, that would protect their eyes from both UAV and UVB rays.
Avoid sunburns. Children with sunburns are more likely to develop melanoma later in their life.
It can it takes several decades for skin cancer to develop. Therefore, to prevent its development. The best we can do is to start taking necessary precautions from a young age itself. Skin cancer is a preventable disease. Only if we take a step ahead and follow all the necessary tips to prevent sunburn and tanning. Also, for more information about the skin, check out this post on thinning skin. For additional help with your caregiving problems. Please contact me so that I can help you.
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