Skip to main content

Jul. 13, 2023

Cover up to protect from harmful UV Rays

By Dr. Rajay Seudath, Optum at University, Tampa, Florida

For most people, summer means spending more time outdoors, and more sun exposure, which can increase the risk of skin cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people 65 and older are most at risk for developing skin cancer, but are also the age group least likely to consistently protect their skin from damaging ultra violet, or UV rays.

The CDC advises that people of all ages take steps to protect their skin by avoiding outside activities between 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., wearing clothing with built-in sun protection, wearing a hat, staying in the shade whenever possible and using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 70 to 120.

If you do get a sunburn, there are steps you can take to minimize skin damage. Wash the affected area with a mild cleanser such as baby shampoo. Also, apply aloe vera, either directly from the plant or from a purchased product.

It’s especially important for older adults and people with light skin tones, freckles, blue or green eyes and blond or red hair to take care – these populations are at higher risk for developing skin cancer. Even so, people with dark skin tones are not immune to skin cancer, so to be safe, everyone should check their skin every month.

A skin check should include the whole body. Look for new growths, sores that don’t heal and changes in moles. A good way to remember what to look for is by remembering A-B-C-D-E, which stands for asymmetrical, border, color, diameter and evolving. See a doctor if you notice any of the following signs:

  • The shape of the spot is “asymmetrical.”
  • The “border” of the spot is irregular or jagged.
  • The “color” of the spot is uneven or different from that of the surrounding skin.
  • The “diameter” of the spot is greater than one centimeter.
  • A spot is “evolving,” or changing in size, shape or color, starts to bleed or displays other changes.

Even if no changes are found, people 65 and older should get a full-body exam by a clinician regularly.

If growths or suspicious spots are found, the clinician will note the size and shape before deciding on what treatment to use, including:

  • Use liquid nitrogen to freeze it off.
  • Surgically remove the spot or mole and the surrounding skin and have a biopsy done. This can tell the doctor if the spot is cancerous.
  • Radiation or other treatments if the spot is cancerous.
  • The doctor may also recommend a full workup to see whether a cancer has spread to other areas of the body.

There are three types of skin cancers: squamous cell carcinomas, basal cell carcinomas, and melanomas. Squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas are generally easier to treat, but the most dangerous type of skin cancer is melanoma, which can spread to other parts of the body.

Skin cancer is preventable and treatable, even later in life. Focus on what you can do in the present to make protecting your skin from UV rays a part of your daily routine.

For more information, see the following articles:

cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/research/articles/older-adults-protect-skin-sun.htm

cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/sun-safety.htm

cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/what-is-skin-cancer.htm

mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/skin-cancer/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20377608

nia.nih.gov/health/skin-care-and-aging

Find a doctor