Wilson Melissa e WEBLess than half of older adults protect their skin from the sun, despite having the highest incidence of skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


In a study, CDC researchers used responses to questions in the 2015 National Health Interview Survey to find out how often older adults in the United States do each of the following when outside in the sun:

stay in the shade

use sunscreen

wear a wide-brimmed hat

wear clothing reaching down to the ankles

wear a long-sleeved shirt 

The study found that only about 15% of older adults and 8% of sun-sensitive older adults regularly used all five kinds of sun protection. Nearly 18% of older adults and 15% of sun-sensitive older adults said they didn’t use any kind of sun protection regularly.
St. Luke’s melanoma specialist Melissa A. Wilson, MD, PhD, said the median age of a skin cancer diagnosis is 65. Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are caused by frequent and long-term exposure to ultraviolent rays. Melanoma, which is more likely than other types of skin cancer to grow and spread, is believed to be caused by intermittent high-intensity sun exposure that results in blistering or sun poisoning. Often, these exposures occurred when the patient was a teenager or in their 20s, but does not develop into skin cancer until years, or decades, later. “Each year, approximately 90,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with melanoma and 9,000 die from the disease,” Dr. Wilson said.

While anyone can get skin cancer, people with blond or red hair, blue or green eyes, and fair skin that freckles or burns easily, are more at risk for developing all kinds of skin cancers, including melanoma, the most-deadly type. Also, individuals who work outside are more susceptible to developing skin cancer, especially on their hands, faces, necks, and heads. Men account for about 60% of skin cancers, and more men work in outdoor occupations, like construction and farming.


Dr. Wilson encourages people, especially those with light skin or a family history of cancer, to see a dermatologist yearly. If they can’t get an appointment with a dermatologist, they should be screened by their primary care physician. If something looks suspicious, the doctor can help the patient schedule an appointment with the dermatologist and can order a biopsy of a lesion or mole. While doctors screen and ultimately diagnose skin cancer, patients are usually the first to suspect that something is wrong, Dr. Wilson told us. “I firmly believe that most people know their bodies and when something is not right,” she said. “I also ask my patients, ‘Did it itch, did it bleed, was it painful?’”


Treatment begins with surgery to remove the cancerous tumor and the area immediately around it, Dr. Wilson explained. The tumor is examined, and depending on the results, a second procedure is performed to determine whether the cancer has spread.
“At St. Luke’s, we have a multidisciplinary approach to treating melanoma cancer. We discuss the patients at Tumor Board where there’s representation from dermatology, medical oncology, surgical oncology, and radiation oncology, to formulate the best plan for each patient. We’re bringing a number of clinical trials to our region that will offer treatment for patients well beyond the typical standards of care.”

To make an appointment to see Dr. Wilson, visit www.sluhn.org/cancer or call 484-503-4673.

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