senior man playing tennis

Though some seniors believe that they’re at low risk for skin cancer, research shows that over 50% of deaths associated with skin cancer happen among adults over the age of 65. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 40 to 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have at least one form of skin cancer. Seniors today, who know about the dangers of harmful UV rays, must take measures to protect their skin from future sun damage and to assess their current risk for melanoma using these criteria:

ABCDE Self-Examination

Dermatologists recommend that you start assessing your risk for melanoma by performing a self-exam using the ABCDE method. As you examine your skin, these are the irregularities you should watch out for:

Asymmetry: Draw an imaginary line through your mole, if the two sides are symmetrical then it is probably benign. If the two side are asymmetrical, however, it may be cancerous.

Borders: Check the border of your mole. Benign moles have smooth edges while malignant moles have bumpy, irregular edges.

Color: Look for irregularities in the color of your mole. Most benign moles are one shade. Discolored or multi-colored moles are more likely to be malignant.

Diameter: Measure out your large moles. Benign moles are typically smaller than malignant ones. If your mole is larger than an eraser (1/4 in. or 6mm), you should contact a dermatologist.

Evolving: Keep an eye on your moles and watch for growth. Melanomas grow and evolve over time, so take a picture of potentially problematic moles. If you notice that one of your moles changes over time (color, shape, elevation, etc.), then you need to meet with a dermatologist as soon as possible.

Family History

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, about 8% of newly-diagnosed melanoma patients have a first-degree relative with melanoma. If your close family members have had melanoma, then you have a greater risk of developing melanoma as well. Melanoma is also more common among people with fairer skin types. So if you come from a family of fair-skinned individuals, you may also be at greater risk of melanoma.

Sun Exposure

Sun exposure is the biggest cause of skin cancer, and if you have a history of sun exposure, then you’re at greater risk of developing melanoma later in life. If you’ve lived most of your life at a high altitude or a sunny location, you’re at higher risk of melanoma. Similarly, if your childhood and teenage years consist primarily of memories of swimming and sunbathing without sunscreen, then you may want to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist.

The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime, and seniors can be at particular risk. Don’t assume you’re an exception. Perform a self-assessment and don’t hesitate to contact a dermatologist for a professional opinion.