Birthday cake overloaded with candles, melting by the sunny window

Skin Cancer and Seniors

It was early in the year of 2019. I was thumbing through the back pages of my favorite pancake restaurant menu. Yes, it was the first day that I was eligible for the 55 and older discount. I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by. I insisted that the waitress “card” me as I seized the moment for my unbelievable deal. What a proud day it was to finally be rewarded for something that I had no control over, my age!

I am not ready to be a senior

A couple of days later, I received a birthday card from my mother congratulating me on this momentous occasion and pointing out that I was now eligible for living in a senior community. That’s when it hit me. Oh, it’s all fun and games when we are dealing with flapjacks, but now I could legally move next door to my parents in their gated neighborhood. Believe me, I do love all the benefits of living in a senior community, but I am not ready for it now.

What about skin cancer and seniors?

I have been thinking about skin cancer and how it relates to our seniors. We do have a lot of seniors these days as my baby boomer cohort is so massive. Seems that there are entire cities dedicated to the needs of seniors in places like Florida and Arizona, places where the sun shines a lot. Many of the folks I know who are my age and older, grew up during a time when we were encouraged (required, at times) to be out in the sun and without a great understanding of its possible consequences to our health.

Seniors are more susceptible to skin cancer

I came across an interesting article written by Dr. Daniel Shurman, a Board-Certified fellow trained in Mohs surgery from Amity Township in Pennsylvania. Dr. Shurman noted that most skin cancers are a result of cumulative damage to our skin. It makes sense then that seniors, especially those of us who spent much time in the sun, have had a lot of exposure and may be more susceptible to skin cancer.1

Seniors and skin cancer data

According to his research, just five sunburns over a lifetime doubles a person’s chance of getting melanoma and 50-60% of us who live to age 65 will be diagnosed with skin cancer. Most people who die from skin cancer are over 65 years old.1 The sobering reality seems to be that the longer we live, the more likely we are to get skin cancer and chances are higher that we will die from it. Ugh.

Reasons for senior skin cancer

Dr. Shurman pointed out a few reasons for this, that are unique to seniors that accelerate aging and increase risk of disease. Seniors may be more susceptible to skin cancers because they often:

  • Have weakened immune systems
  • Poorer healing capacity
  • Thinner skin
  • Cumulative damage from the effects of smoking and pollution1

What does this all mean?

For me, it means choosing to be in the sun before 10AM and after 4PM, when the sun’s rays aren’t as powerful. It means wearing SPF 50 sunscreen when I am out. It means wearing a wide-brimmed hat and UV protectant sunglasses. Oh, I am still going out to pick up my discounted pancakes, but I will go out protected from the sun and maybe one day you will find me in a senior community hitting a golf ball as the sun is going down.

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