It’s a common myth that most sun damage happens before the age of 18, but does this mean sun damage becomes less of a threat as we get older? Although many think most sun damage happens at a young age, the majority of sun exposure actually occurs after the age of 40. However, it’s never too late to make a difference in your skin health.
In fact, between 40 – 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have skin cancer at least once in their lives. Non-melanoma skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, is the most common form of skin cancer, and most often occurs in people over the age of 50. This rang true for John Gohmann, who was diagnosed with advanced basal cell carcinoma at age 64, and has been an outdoorsman for as long as he can remember.
“Being outside my whole life, playing a lot of golf and working on the railroad, I never used sunscreen and didn’t think about getting skin cancer,” John said. “I was shocked to learn not wearing sunscreen was so dangerous and that I could still be causing myself damage, even in my later years.”
After ignoring a small lesion on his nose for years, John could no longer ignore the pain and finally went to see a dermatologist. The cancer had spread into the bone of his nose, upper lip and gums, and his doctor said he was not eligible for surgery or radiation because of the location and depth of the cancer. John learned for his particular case he was eligible for an oral pill, Erivedge (vismodegib), which is a prescription medicine used to treat adults with basal cell carcinoma that has spread to other parts of the body and cannot be treated with surgery or radiation. John is still taking the medicine today. Like all medications, Erivedge is associated with serious side effects and has the potential to harm an unborn baby. Always consult with your doctor on possible side effects.
“For the first time in my life, I recognize the dangers of skin cancer and the sun,” John said. “I now have a routine to protect myself from harmful sun exposure, especially when I’m on the golf course, including wearing sunscreen and protective clothing, and think it’s important for everyone to schedule an annual appointment with their physician.”
It’s never too late to protect yourself from the sun. Dr. Keith LeBlanc Jr. of The Skin Surgery Centre recommends these preventative tips:
1) Have a Routine to Stay Protected: It’s important to stay protected from the sun year-round, even when it’s cloudy. Wearing sunglasses that block ultraviolet rays and applying sunscreen with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher can help limit exposure. Wear a hat to cover your head and clothes that cover your arms and legs, if possible. Seek shade when the sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
2) Know What to Look For: Basal cell carcinomas often appear on the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders and back. Most commonly, they appear as open sores that don’t heal, reddish patches or irritated areas, shiny or pink bumps and scar-like areas. It’s important to perform skin self-exams monthly and to see your doctor every year for a professional exam.
3) Understand Treatment Options: If diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, consult with your doctor to discuss treatment options that might be right for you. If caught early, surgically removing the affected area or applying a medicated cream may be all the treatment a patient needs. However, once the cancer spreads to other areas of the body, treatment becomes more complex and may involve the use of targeted therapies, radiation, chemotherapy and other treatments.
For more information on skin cancer, visit gene.com/skin-health.