The one thing that I don’t have to tell anyone is that summer is coming. We’ve been careful over the winter to not get caught in the new COVID-19 variant trap and limited our travels. We just barely have been free to remove our masks on airplanes and in the airport, although, depending on our health status and age some of us have chosen to continue the practice. We are all looking forward to going on a vacation, getting away, feeling the warmth of the sun on our face . . . and just as I say that I know you are all saying, “here he goes again, given the blog title, he is going to ruin our fun with dire warnings and a list of dos and don’ts”. Well, there still might be some dos and don’ts but we can still be free to have some fun in the sun if we just follow a few simple steps.
First, a little background. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed each year, but there are ways for us to significantly lower our chance of getting skin cancer and, if it’s found early, it often can be treated and eliminated completely. Here are some interesting and sobering facts:
- One out of five of those over 70 will develop skin cancer.
- An estimated 3.6 million people will be diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the most common and least serious type of skin cancer.
- Having five or more sunburns doubles your chances of getting skin cancer, but just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma (a more serious form of skin cancer) later in life.
- People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent.
- When detected early, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent.
When I read these facts I came to the following conclusions – a lot of people are going to get skin cancer. Things that we did when we were younger affect our risk of getting skin cancer. Since the name of this blog is “Seniors Speak Out,” and we can’t do anything about the stupid decisions we made when we were younger, I’m going to talk about the things that older people should do to limit their chances of getting skin cancer or having a bad outcome if you do get it.
Different people may have a higher or lower risk of getting skin cancer depending on your own background and physical characteristics. I recommend you take this skin cancer risk quiz to see what your own personal risk is. It’s a good first step to take.
Here’s the list of dos and don’ts you’ve all been waiting for, I trimmed it to the ones that fit the older crowd.
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Don’t get sunburned.
- Avoid tanning, and never use UV tanning beds.
- 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) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See a dermatologist at least once a year for a professional skin exam.
These are things that we’ve all probably heard before but maybe have periodically neglected to follow. This month is a good time to start following the guidance above. I would like to talk a little more about the final two items on the list.
As I get older, I’ve found myself looking at myself in the mirror less and less. The sagging and wrinkles just aren’t that exciting to look at. Examining myself from head to toe once a month just doesn’t seem like much fun, but you can see the wisdom in doing that type of examination. I’ve given this guidance some thought and have come up with a personal solution that I’m going to try. As I’ve grown older, I’ve found the accuracy of my memory has declined. According to my wife (and she is right on this point) my memory hasn’t declined, I still remember things just fine, I just remember them wrong. Given that fact I saw a problem with trying to remember from month to month if something on my skin has changed. I decided I’m going to take some baseline pictures that I could use to compare to my monthly exam. This way any changes would be apparent and not based on my flawed memory. It’s just something I thought I’d do; you’re welcome to use your own methods. The important thing is that you do the monthly exam. Remember, early detection makes a huge difference in achieving a positive outcome.
The last item, seeing your dermatologist, is another point that I want to stress. Sometimes skin cancer doesn’t present itself as something you can see. Your dermatologist is the key to detecting things that need further evaluation. Many of us postponed appointments like this due to COVID-19. If it’s been over a year since you saw a dermatologist, schedule an appointment.
I always look at these blogs as hoping they cause some of you to make a change. It’s huge if you just do one thing that helps you stay healthier. My change is I’m going to finally follow the suggestion of my sons and my wife and start putting sunscreen on when I golf, and I’m going full out and using SPF 30. I hope you also decide to make a change that will help protect your skin.