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Skin cancer on the rise for ages 50+

Skin cancer is on the rise among older adults. More adults age 55 or older than ever are being diagnosed with melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer.

This may be due to the increased use of tanning beds among the older generations, or it may be due to an increased awareness of skin cancer.

July is UV Safety Month. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, but fortunately, it is also the easier to cure. The key is finding it and treating it early. Here are some warning signs:

--A skin growth that noticeably increases in size and looks pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black or multicolored.

--A mole, birthmark or brown spot that changes color or texture, increases in size, has an irregular outline, is bigger than a pencil eraser and appears after age 21.

--A spot that itches, hurts, crusts, scabs, erodes or bleeds continually.

--An open sore that doesn't heal within three weeks.

If you notice any of these signs, contact a physician right away. Don't wait and hope that it will go away.

Much of the damage to DNA in skin cells results from ultraviolet (UV) radiation found in sunlight and in commercial tanning lamps and tanning beds.

But sun exposure doesn't explain skin cancers that develop on skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight. There are other factors that contribute to your risk, including:

--Fair skin. Anyone, regardless of skin color, can get skin cancer. However, less pigment in your skin provides less protection from damaging UV radiation. If you have blond or red hair and light colored eyes, and you freckle or sunburn easily, you are much more likely to develop skin cancer than a person with darker skin.

--A history of sunburns. Having had one or more blistering sunburns as a child or teenager increases your risk of developing skin cancer as an adult.

--Excessive sun exposure. Anyone who spends considerable time in the sun may develop skin cancer, especially if the skin isn't protected by sunscreen or clothing.

--Sunny or high altitude climates. People who live in sunny, warm climates are exposed to more sunlight than are people who live in colder climates.

--Moles. People who have many moles or abnormal moles are at increased risk.

--Precancerous skin lesions. These growths are typically rough, scaly patches that range in color from brown to dark pink, most common on the face, head and hands of fair-skinned people whose skin has been sun damaged.

--A family history of skin cancer. If one of your parents or sibling has had skin cancer, you may have an increased risk.

--A personal history of skin cancer.

--A weakened immune system. This includes people with HIV/AIDS or leukemia and those on immunosuppressant drugs for organ transplants.

--Exposure to radiation. People who have received radiation treatment for skin conditions such as eczema and acne may have an increase risk.

--Exposure to substances such as arsenic.

If you notice any changes to your skin that worry you, contact your doctor. Not all changes are caused by skin cancer. Your doctor will investigate your skin changes to determine a cause.