Congratulations, you have survived life’s slings and arrows, and made it to your senior years. It required some brains. It required common sense. Now’s not the time to leave those resources. Many elderly folks in aged care seem to feel that after browsing past decades of life’s drawbacks, they could cast caution to the winds, particularly when it comes to sun exposure.
The first flaw in that thinking is that none of us know how long we will reside. The average lifespan in the industrial world has been rising steeply. By 2020, 25% of the US workforce will be composed of elderly workers. Between 40% and 50% of Americans who live to age 65 will have skin cancer at least once. It’s also been reported that over half of epidermis cancer-related deaths occur in men over 65 years old. The more people live, the more inclined they are to develop skin cancer, and the greater their odds of dying from it.
There are numerous reasons for this. First, most skin cancers result from sun damage over the course of our lives, and seniors have lived longer; they’ve had the most sunlight and sustained the most damage from ultraviolet (UV) light as they had no supplies and healthcare equipment from professionals as there was little to no research on the effect of skin care and cancer. Both sunburns and suntans harm our skin’s DNA, breaking down the skin’s cells so that it ages before its time, and generating genetic defects that may result in skin cancer. Having only five sunburns over your life more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma, and every successive tan or sunburn increases the dangers further. We never know exactly how much damage will activate a skin cancer, but studies reveal that one bad burn in older age may be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Making matters worse, since the damage mounts, our ability to stave it off keeps diminishing. As we age, our skin undergoes changes that weaken our defenses against skin disease; reduced immune systems, weaker healing capacity, thinner skin, and damage from physical assaults from smoking to pollution. These changes all contribute to accelerated skin aging and increase our risk for skin cancer.
Two types of skin aging exist; intrinsic, or ordinary chronological aging, which happens in most individuals, and extrinsic aging, due to outside factors such as ultraviolet (UV) light exposure (both sun and tanning beds), industrial chemicals, human immunodeficiency virus and environmental pollutants. Both play a role in skin cancer and can be checked up by a skin doctor.
Within our advanced years, our skin loses fat and water content and becomes thinner, allowing UV light to penetrate more deeply. Compounding the issue, the human body’s natural ability to repair damaged DNA diminishes, raising the probability of abnormal cell growth that may cause mutations resulting in skin cancer. The general natural decrease in our immune systems not only may allow prior DNA damage to progress to cancer, but leaves us more vulnerable to cancers out of future DNA damage. Many diseases and conditions associated with aging contribute to the immune decline. Atherosclerosis, diabetes mellitus, and congestive heart failure, as an instance, are known to impede blood circulation and decrease immune reactions, reducing the skin’s ability to heal.
If all that is not bad enough, we regularly expose our skin to brokers that further weaken our defenses. Most importantly, many elderly people vastly increase their UV exposure, moving to sunnier climes and participating in more outdoor activities like fishing, golfing, and tennis. Since UV light itself suppresses the immune system, this exacerbates our natural immune decline and eases the development of skin cancer. UV light also breaks down elastic tissue (elastin) from the skin over time, resulting in wrinkles, sagging, discoloration, and redness. There is a type of laser treatment, which can prevent or help this from happening to you in the future.
The skin is especially susceptible to sun damage because it covers the entire surface of the body. It’s the first organ to come in direct contact with UV rays. We once thought that sunlight damage occurred before age 18, and that this early damage triggered the majority of the genetic changes that later contributed to skin pre-cancers and cancers. Since we are aware that UV exposure is its principal cause, skin cancer is almost entirely preventable. Fortunately for elderly people, prevention isn’t so big a burden. It only requires some consistent precaution. It is pretty much a three-pronged application: 1) stay from tanning beds, 2) use effective sun protection, and 3) assess your skin. The first part is extremely easy, simply never grow to a tanning bed as more people develop skin cancer due to UV tanning than develop lung cancer due to smoking.
Good sun protection begins with time. The hours between 10 AM and 4 PM are typically the very UV-intense, so plan outside adventures for early morning or late afternoon. If you do go outdoors, seek shade from the direct sun, and wear sun-safe clothes, such as a long-sleeved shirt and long pants made of densely woven fabrics, a wide brimmed hat, and UV-filtering sunglasses. Use an SPF 15 or higher broad spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30+, water-resistant sunscreen for extended or extreme outdoor exposures like on the golf course), and reapply at least every two hours or immediately after swimming or heavy perspiration.