Any of us who are middle-aged or older probably have fond memories of idyllic summers spent out in the sun all day, with barely a thought for sunscreen or covering up. Unfortunately, back in those pre ‘sun smart’ days, the damage to your skin may already have been done – and you might be seeing the consequences now as you age.
Recent New Zealand data shows that older people have a higher incidence of skin cancers such as melanoma than those in younger age brackets. In 2014, the melanoma mortality rate had increased substantially in the age groups 75–84 years and 85+ years – while the number of deaths from melanoma remained relatively stable in the other age groups.1
In other words, if you’re over 75, you’re seven times more likely to develop melanoma than someone in the 25-44 year age group.2
Not only that, most non-melanoma skin cancer (such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma) typically appears after age 50.
According to our sources, there are a few reasons for this:
Firstly, skin damage from ultra-violet (UV) light builds up over time. Whether from the sun or tanning lamps, UV light can damage the DNA in your skin cells, which, over time, may trigger the cells to produce cancer cells instead of healthy ones.3
Secondly, your skin changes as you age. It gets older and thinner, which means it’s more easily damaged by environmental factors such as smoking and other pollutants, and especially by the effects of ultra-violet radiation (photo-aging).4
And thirdly, your body’s ability to find and destroy cancer cells decreases as you age. Your body produces fewer new skin cells, so the proportion of old skin cells is higher – and these cells behave differently. For example, young fibroblasts — principal active cell of connective tissue — help control the growth of other cells. Older fibroblasts don’t do this as effectively, and cells that grow in an unregulated way can sometimes result in cancer.5
This ‘triple whammy’ of reasons means that the older you get, the more at risk you are and the more precautions you need to take.
As you get older, the key is to prevent further skin damage and to have regular skin checks with your GP or specialist. If you notice any darker, growing or changing moles – or any skin changes that look suspicious – get them checked straight away.
If you’ve previously been diagnosed with melanoma or other types of skin cancer, you’re at a higher risk of developing another one. And it pays to be aware of your family’s skin cancer history – five to ten per cent of people diagnosed with melanoma have one or more family members who’ve also had melanoma.
Slap on a SPF30+ sunscreen every day
Wear broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB), water-resistant sunscreen and lip balm daily that offer SPF 30 or higher sun protection – and apply at least 15 minutes before going out into the sun.
Protect your skin – cover up or stay in the shade
Whenever possible, wear a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves and long pants – as well as sunglasses to protect the delicate skin around your eyes. And avoid being outdoors when the sun is strongest – between 10am and 4pm from September to April.
Observe – look for changes in your skin regularly
Carry out regular skin self-checks every three months (it’s a good idea to do it at the beginning of every season so you don’t forget!). Being familiar with your skin means you’ll be more likely to notice any suspicious lumps or spots as soon as they develop.
Track changes every year with MoleMap
As you get older, the reassurance of a regular, professional skin check such as a Full Body MoleMap becomes even more important. Click here to learn more about the range of skin check services offered by MoleMap – or here to book your next appointment.
References: 1,2. http://www.ehinz.ac.nz/assets/Factsheets/Released-2017/Melanoma-deaths.pdf. 3,4,5. https://www.sharecare.com/health/skin-cancer-causes-risk-factors/skin-cancer-common-in-old-age