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Baby boomers and skin cancer: What you need to know

Boomers are getting older, and the effects of the sun from their youth and their love of outdoor activities are now beginning to show up.

Little was known when boomers were growing up about the importance of protecting the skin from the sun. And boomers don’t wear sunscreen as often as dermatologists recommend.

In a Harris Poll, 82 percent of baby boomers surveyed said they frequently spent time in the sun during their childhood without protecting their skin from the sun’s dangerous ultraviolet or UV rays, reports

The survey also showed that the majority of older adults who wear sunscreen wear it when in the sun for an extended period of time such at the beach or gardening. However, only one-third are diligent about replying sunscreen at least every two to three hours. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends reapplying sunscreen every one and a half hours when outdoors, even on cloudy days.


Skin cancer is more prevalent today than any other time in history, as this chart from the Centers for Disease Control shows.

More than one million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer diagnosed annually in the United States are considered to be sun related.

Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer will account for 68,720 cases of skin cancer in 2009 and most – about 8,650 – of the deaths due to skin cancer each year, reports the American Cancer Society.

What are the types of skin cancer?

Most skin cancers are classified as non-melanoma, usually starting in either basal cells or squamous cells. These cells are located at the base of the outer layer of the skin or cover the internal and external surfaces of the body.

Most non-melanoma skin cancers develop on sun-exposed areas of the body, such as the face, ear, neck, lips, and the backs of the hands, the society reports. Depending on the type, they can be fast or slow growing, but they rarely spread to other parts of the body.

Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the melanocytes – the cells that produce the skin coloring or pigment known as melanin. Melanin helps protect the deeper layers of the skin from the harmful effects of the sun.

Melanoma is almost always curable when it is detected in its early stages, according to the society. Although melanoma accounts for only a small percentage of skin cancer, it’s far more dangerous than other skin cancers and causes most skin cancer deaths.

What are the risk factors for skin cancer?

  • Unprotected and/or excessive exposure to UV radiation.
  • Fair complexion.
  • Occupational exposures to coal tar, pitch, creosote, arsenic compounds, or radium.
  • Family history.
  • Multiple or atypical moles.
  • Severe sunburns as a child.

What are the signs and symptoms of skin cancer?

  • Any change on the skin, especially in the size or color of a mole or other darkly pigmented growth or spot, or a new growth.
  • Scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or change in the appearance of a bump or nodule.
  • The spread of pigmentation beyond its border such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark.
  • A change in sensation, itchiness, tenderness, or pain.

What can you do to avoid skin cancer?

  • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Seek shade: Look for shade, especially in the middle of the day when the sun's rays are strongest. Practice the shadow rule and teach it to children. If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
  • Slip on a shirt: Cover up with protective clothing to guard as much skin as possible when you are out in the sun. Choose comfortable clothes made of tightly woven fabrics that you cannot see through when held up to a light.
  • Slop on sunscreen: Use sunscreen and lip balm with a sun protection factor SPF of 15 or higher. Apply a generous amount of sunscreen – about a palmful – and reapply after swimming, toweling dry, or perspiring. Use sunscreen even on hazy or overcast days.
  • Slap on a hat: Cover your head with a wide-brimmed hat, shading your face, ears, and neck. If you choose a baseball cap, remember to protect your ears and neck with sunscreen.
  • Wrap on sunglasses: Wear sunglasses with 99 percent to 100 percent UV absorption to provide optimal protection for the eyes and the surrounding skin.
  • Follow these practices to protect your skin even on cloudy or overcast days. UV rays travel through clouds.
  • Avoid other sources of UV light. Tanning beds and sun lamps are dangerous because they can damage your skin.

The society recommends that you check your skin every month. See "Examining Your Skin for Details."

If you find anything unusual, see your doctor right away.

Copyright 2009, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist


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skin care answers

Wow, this is a very detailed information about skin cancers! Thanks for this post.



Hi Peter,

Thanks for your comment. Skin cancers are increasing among baby boomers, so it's important to know what you can do to prevent it.


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