AgingSkinNet Article
Skin Cancer: Need for Skin Exam Increases with Age

If you are 50 years of age or older, a full-body skin cancer examination could save your life. The risk of developing skin cancer appears to increase significantly around 50. With early detection and proper treatment, the cure rate for skin cancer averages 95%.

When detection and treatment are delayed, the outcome is not as favorable. Treatment can require extensive removal of skin and tissue. The cancer can spread beyond the skin. The majority of deaths from skin cancer occur in people who are middle-aged and older.

Why Age Increases Skin Cancer Risk
By the time we reach middle age, many of us have had a lot of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun — and sometimes indoor tanning devices. It is well known that overexposure to UV radiation can cause skin cancer. This is why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classifies UV radiation as a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). Damage caused by exposure to UV rays builds up in our bodies. As the damage accumulates, it can lead to premature aging, a weakened immune system, cataracts, and skin cancer.

Data confirms that this damage tends to show up as skin cancer around 50 years of age. When dermatologists looked at the data collected during the free skin cancer screenings offered by the American Academy of Dermatology, the doctors found that the risk of a new mole being a melanoma was less than 1% in those younger than 50. In people over 50, 30% of new moles were melanomas. The data also showed that 44% of people diagnosed with melanoma were white men over 50.

We also know that a type of melanoma known as lentigo maligna melanoma (LMM) is most likely to appear between 50 and 80 years of age. In the earliest stage, when it is usually called lentigo maligna, this melanoma resembles a flat dark patch. Since this melanoma tends to develop on skin that has received years of sun exposure, it may be mistaken for a large age spot or freckle. Any new spot including one thought to be an age spot or freckle should be examined by a dermatologist.

Regular Skin Exams Can Detect Skin Cancer
The purpose of a skin exam is to look for signs of skin cancer. Dermatologists encourage everyone to regularly examine their own skin for these signs. They also recommend making an appointment for a full-body exam.

During a full-body exam, all areas where skin cancer can develop are visually examined. Even areas that receive little or no sun exposure must be checked. The most aggressive form of melanoma, acral lentiginous melanoma (ALM), develops on areas of the body not thought to be affected by skin cancer such as the soles of the feet and beneath the nails. ALM is the most common melanoma in blacks and Asians.

Why See a Dermatologist for a Full-Body Skin Exam
A dermatologist is a doctor who has received specialized medical training in the diagnosis and treatment of skin diseases. This training includes in-depth instruction in how to diagnose and treat skin cancer. After completing their medical education, dermatologists routinely treat patients with skin cancer. Studies confirm that this specialized training and routine care of patients with skin cancer enable dermatologists to detect melanoma at an earlier stage than other doctors.

Dermatologists Treat Sun-Damaged Skin, Too
Seeing a dermatologist for a full-body skin exam has another benefit. As the experts in treating skin conditions, dermatologists know how to treat skin damage caused by the sun. If you are bothered by age spots, deep wrinkles, a blotchy complexion, or other signs of sun damage, a dermatologist can discuss treatment options that would be appropriate for diminishing these signs of aging.

If you have not had a full-body skin exam lately and are 50 or older, be sure to make an appointment to see a dermatologist. More than one million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, which makes skin cancer the most common cancer in the United States.

More Information
Body Mole Map
Melanoma can develop in moles. This page was created to help you keep track of your moles.

Skin Exams
Includes five illustrations that show how to exam the skin for signs for skin cancer.

1 American Academy of Dermatology. “2008 Skin Cancer Fact Sheet,”
Last accessed April 14, 2008.

2 American Academy of Dermatology. “2008 Melanoma Fact Sheet,”
Last accessed April 14, 2008.

3 American Academy of Dermatology. “Indoor Tanning Fact Sheet,”
Last accessed April 14, 2008.

4 American Academy of Dermatology. "New Survey Finds Teenage Boys Least Likely to Practice Proper Sun Protection." News release issued May 2, 2005, Last accessed April 14, 2008.

5 American Academy of Dermatology. "New Study Identifies Five Risk Factors Linked to Melanoma Detection.” News release issued May 7, 2007, Last accessed April 14, 2008.

6 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2008.

7 Chen SC, Pennie ML, Kolm P et al. “Diagnosing and managing cutaneous pigmented lesions: primary care physicians versus dermatologists.” J Gen Intern Med 2006 Jul; 21: 678-82.

8 Geller AC, Swetter SM, Brooks K et al. “Screening, early detection, and trends for melanoma: current status (2000-2006) and future directions.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2007 Oct; 57: 555-72; quiz 73-6.

9 Gloster HM, Neal K. “Skin cancer in skin of color.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2006 Nov;55:741-60; quiz 761-4.

10 Goldberg MS, Doucette JT, Lim HW et al. “Risk factors for presumptive melanoma in skin cancer screening: American Academy of Dermatology National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Screening Program experience 2001-2005.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2007 Jul; 57: 60-6.

11 Heckman CJ, Coups EJ, Manne SL. “Prevalence and correlates of indoor tanning among US adults.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2008 [articles in press].

12 Roberts WE. “Geriatric Dermatology Update.” Focus Session 616: Presented at Summer Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology. New York City. August 2007.

13 Tan WW et al. "Lentigo Maligna Melanoma.” eMedicine. Last updated December 21, 2006,  Last accessed April 15, 2008.

All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

Women often cover sun-damaged skin with makeup. Only when makeup no longer hid her lesions, did this woman see a doctor. Three skin cancers were found — one was melanoma.

This 75-year-old man has extensive sun-damaged skin. Two basal cell carcinomas (type of skin cancer) developed around his eye.

This type of skin cancer, lentigo maligna, appears as a flat dark patch on sun-damaged skin.

(Photos used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides)

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Page last updated 5/8/08

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