Home Health & Wellness Don’t Be a Golden Oldie – Baby Boomers’ Attitude to Suntans Must Change, Says Testing Expert

Don’t Be a Golden Oldie – Baby Boomers’ Attitude to Suntans Must Change, Says Testing Expert

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Cases of melanoma skin cancer have boomed among baby boomers – the generation born between 1946 and 1964 and now aged between 57–75 years old. Melanoma skin cancers in people aged 50–59 have increased by 102%, in 60–69 year-olds by 158% and in 70–79 year-olds by a shocking 236%.

While some researchers have blamed the legacy of cheap package holiday suntans during the 1960s and 70s, a leading testing expert says it’s also the case that many over 55s have never stopped believing a tanned body is a healthy body.

Leading testing expert Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), clinical lead at London Medical Laboratory, says: “The number of people over 55 developing skin cancer has almost tripled since the 1990s, Cancer Research UK has revealed. It’s not just the consequence of sunbathing when they were young that puts many baby boomers at risk; some have never changed their attitudes to tanning.

“Back in the 1960s and 70s, many young people would hit the beach hoping to get a great tan; that was seen as a healthy or attractive look. Today, thanks to greater awareness, skin cancer rates, while soaring for older people, are decreasing for young people below the age of 24. Since the early 1990s, this age group has seen a decline in melanoma cases of 18%. While younger people are getting the message, greater awareness is needed in older adults.

“The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says less than half of older adults protect their skin when outside for an hour or more on a warm, sunny day. Furthermore, nearly 18% of older adults don’t use sun protection regularly, and more than one in 10 older adults (13%) have been sunburned in the past year. We would likely get comparably similar figures in the UK.

“A study of women aged over 71 published in the journal “Health and Illness” highlights typical attitudes towards sunbathing. It reveals that most participants “felt pale skin was unsightly and undesirable while lightly suntanned skin was beautiful, partly because it was perceived to be indicative of health and vibrancy.”

“The attitude among older adults is that it’s too late to start taking precautions. Since the publication of flawed data in 1986, it’s been widely believed that people get about 80% of their lifetime ultraviolet (UV) dose by 18. That story prompted fears of a melanoma time bomb, but it was based on flawed calculations. Later research reveals that most people worldwide (including Brits) get less than 25% of their lifetime UV dose by 18, meaning it’s worth taking protective measures against cancer.

“Even if you regularly sunbathe in the 60s and 70s without suncreams, the most recent studies reveal that protecting your skin today can still make a big difference. Research from the US Skin Cancer Foundation has shown that it’s not too late for older people to take preventive action. Damage from UV exposure is cumulative and increases your skin cancer risk over time.

“So, how can we identify potential melanomas? Some develop from existing moles. Others grow on what was previously normal skin. Not all skin cancers are melanomas; unprotected sun exposure can result in squamous and basal cell carcinomas.

“If you notice a new mole or skin lesion you are worried about, show it to your doctor. It’s important to be eagle-eyed. Some melanomas may look like a bruise under a nail. Even more rarely, they can present in the coloured portion of the eye (iris).

“While skin cancers can often be easily observed, other cancers that may affect older people are not readily detected. That’s why a general health profile blood test may be a good idea for baby boomers (and indeed any generation) concerned about their health.

“For example, London Medical Laboratory’s Premier Health Profile blood test can detect blood cancers such as leukaemia, which becomes more common in older age groups. It also monitors kidney and liver functions and can identify abnormal biomarker levels that may prompt further investigation into potential cancer risks.

“It can be taken at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests across London and nationwide in over 95 selected pharmacies and health stores. The same test minus the full blood count is also available as a home test. It can be taken at home through the post.” 

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