Skin Cancer in the Elderly

After a lifetime spent outdoors, seniors are more likely to develop some type of skin cancer.  As their skin loses its elasticity and becomes more fragile, any sun exposure can increase the risk.  It’s important if you have a senior family member that you know about this disease, its prevention, risk factors, and treatment options.

Statistics about Skin Cancer

According to the Canadian Cancer Statistics, skin cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer in Canada.  In 2007, 73,600 Canadians were diagnosed with the disease.  There are three types of skin cancer:

  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Melanoma

While Melanoma is the most deadly of the three, it is also the least common.  The other two types of skin cancer rarely cause death.  Men have a two to one ratio of getting either of the first two types, while the genders ratio is equal for the melanoma cases.

That said, according to the Canadian Cancer Statistics (2007) for those who are diagnosed with melanoma, the survival rate is 89% for five years after their cancer diagnosis.

Risk Factors and Causes

Over-exposure to the sun when a person is young is the main cause of skin cancer.  Melanoma often develops later in life and can be caused from intermittent sun exposure, such as the kind that causes you to get sunburn.  This is why it is important that people always wear sunscreen and appropriate clothing when they are outdoors.

Melanoma is also more likely to occur on body parts that are not usually exposed to the sun such as the head and neck, chest or back and arms.  Other risk factors include exposure to tanning beds and working in jobs that emit a high amount of UVR.

Other risk factors for melanoma include:

  • Unusual moles
  • Family history of melanoma
  • White skin and red or blond hair
  • Blue eyes

Signs to watch for:

  • Moles that have irregular borders or more than one color
  • Moles that change appearance, either in size or color
  • Moles that itch or have a discharge
  • New moles that grow near another mole

Four primary treatments are available for dealing with skin cancer.  This includes surgery, which can either be a simple removal of the mole or it may involve more skin grafting.  Chemotherapy is another option that may be used in addition to surgery or instead of it.  Radiation is another treatment option.  Biologic therapy involves using the patient’s own immune system to fight the cancer.

The outcome for patients diagnosed with skin cancer varies and is dependent upon their overall health, how early they were diagnosed, what stage it is in, and the location and size of the tumor.  Most people are successfully treated; however, the cancer can recur in the future.

How Can Homecare Services Help?

While skin cancer is certainly not a death sentence and is often treated successfully, it can be a difficult period for the senior to go through.  Depending on the treatment option chosen, they may experience side effects or a long recovery period.  Even though surgery is often considered the easiest treatment choice, it can also affect the body.  Older people are slower to recover from any procedure, and may need more time to get back to normal.

During this time, it is important that the seniors will have people around to help them when they don’t feel like doing as much for themselves.  They may need meals cooked or housecleaning done.  They may also need someone to accompany them to doctor appointments or treatments or provide reminders for medicines.

While you will want to help take care of your loved one as much as possible, homecare services can provide valuable assistance during this time.  In addition to assisting with various tasks, it can often be an asset to have an outsider in the home to communicate with them and help keep their spirits up.  They may also confide in someone who is not emotionally involved in the situation.  Even though skin cancer is highly treatable, it can be a scary diagnosis.

The caregivers at Carefect Homecare Services have worked with seniors with different health conditions and can provide expert care to your family members.  Our caregivers assist with housekeeping tasks as well as personal care.  They can help with bathing and notice if any moles have changed or new ones have grown to help with an early diagnosis.  If a loved one is diagnosed with skin cancer, our caregivers can provide reliable care during a difficult time.