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Are my older parents still at risk of skin cancer? Can it be prevented?

By Peter DiMaria

Yes, they are.

Actually, the risk is higher for older Americans because they have had a whole life of skin damage caused by exposure to the sun hazards, which makes their skin more sensitive to further harm.

A recent study conducted in the UK shows that older people are more at risk of skin cancer and infection because their skin is unable to mobilize the immune system to defend itself.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Some people are at higher risk of skin cancer than others, but anyone can get it. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have either basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma at least once. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer.

The most preventable cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, either from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds. By damaging the skin's cellular DNA, excessive UV radiation produces genetic mutations that can lead to skin cancer. Both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have identified UV as a proven human carcinogen.

Skin cancer prevention tips for family caregivers

Caregivers providing senior care should protect their loved ones against sun damage and skin cancer

People in their 60s may not be as concerned about keeping their skin looking young as are people in their 20s and 30s. But that doesn’t mean that your parents shouldn’t enjoy the good weather and be outside as much as possible. Just follow these recommendations by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) for sun protection:

Sunscreen 

  • Use sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection.  · Sunscreen wears off. Put it on again if you stay out in the sun for more than two hours, and after swimming or practicing activities that make them sweat. Apply a thick, consistent layer of cream throughout all of the exposed areas;
  • Check the sunscreen's expiration date. Sunscreen without an expiration date has a shelf life of no more than three years, but its shelf life is shorter if it has been exposed to high temperatures.

Clothing 

  • Be sure that your parents wear clothing to protect exposed skin.
  • Loose‐fitting long‐sleeved shirts and long pants made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection from the sun's UV rays. A wet T‐shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one. Darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors.
  • If wearing this type of clothing isn't practical, at least try to wear a T‐shirt or a beach cover‐up. Keep in mind that a typical T‐shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15, so use other types of protection as well.

Hats 

  • For the most protection, wear a hat with a brim all the way around that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck. A tightly woven fabric, such as canvas, works best to protect your skin from UV rays. Avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through. A darker hat may offer more UV protection. 
  • If you wear a baseball cap, you should also protect your ears and the back of your neck by wearing clothing that covers those areas, using sunscreen with at least SPF 15, or by staying in the shade.

Sunglasses

  • Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure.
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible. Most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard.

Shade 

  • Seek shade, especially during midday hours.
  • You can reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer by seeking shade under an umbrella, tree, or another shelter before you need relief from the sun. Your best bet to protect your skin is to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing when you're outside—even when you're in the shade.

Hours of Exposure

  • Avoid direct exposure to the sun between 10 am and 4 pm. These are the hours when dangerous UV rays are more predominant in the continental United States;

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