According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common kind of cancer in the United States. And, it doesn’t just beat out other cancers by a few hundred cases—it’s the most common kind by a long shot. It’s also one of the most treatable kinds of cancer when it is caught early. To detect skin cancer early, experts recommend that all people check their skin regularly for abnormal looking moles and spots. However, it can be hard for older adults and their family caregivers to know what might need treatment if they don’t know what they are looking for.
What is Normal?
To find spots that might be abnormal, it is first helpful to know what is normal. The American Cancer Society says a normal mole has these characteristics:
- Evenly colored—either brown, tan, or black.
- Can be flat or raised.
- Round or oval.
- Less than a ¼ inch in size.
Signs of Skin Cancer
By the time a person is a young adult, they should have developed all their normal moles. If an older adult develops a new mole, they should have it looked at by a doctor. Also, a mole that has changed in size, shape, or color is a sign of skin cancer.
One way to recognize potential problems is to use the ABCDE rule, which is:
- Asymmetry: Part of the mole does not match the other part.
- Border: A mole with a ragged or irregular border.
- Color: The color is not consistent throughout the mole. There may be patches of different colors, including pink red, white, or blue.
- Diameter: Moles or spots that are larger than a ¼ inch in diameter, though it is possible for skin cancer to be smaller.
- Evolving: A mole that is changing. It may grow, change colors, or change shape.
Not all skin cancers fit into the ABCDE rules. Some other signs that may indicate skin cancer are:
- Sores that don’t heal.
- A mole that has redness or swelling around it or with pigment “leaking” outside the mole.
- A mole that itches, feels tender to the touch, or is painful.
- A mole that looks scaly, bleeds, oozes, or looks like a lump.
Elder care can help older adults to inspect their skin for abnormal moles and spots. An elder care provider can look at their back, lower legs, or other parts of the body they have difficulty seeing. Elder care providers can also report any concerning spots to family caregivers so that the senior can receive medical attention.
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