It’s a common myth that most sun damage happens before the age of 18, but does this mean sun damage becomes less of a threat as we get older?
Although many think most sun damage happens at a young age, the majority of sun exposure actually occurs after the age of 40.¹ However, it’s never too late to make a difference in your skin health.
In fact, between 40-50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have skin cancer at least once in their lives.² Non-melanoma skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, is the most common form of skin cancer,³ and most often occurs in people over the age of 50.4 This rang true for John Gohmann, who was diagnosed with advanced basal cell carcinoma at age 64, and has been an outdoorsman for as long as he can remember.
“Being outside my whole life, playing a lot of golf and working on the railroad, I never used sunscreen and didn’t think about getting skin cancer,” John said. “I was shocked to learn not wearing sunscreen was so dangerous and that I could still be causing myself damage, even in my later years.”
After ignoring a small lesion on his nose for years, John could no longer ignore the pain and finally went to see a dermatologist. The cancer had spread into the bone of his nose, upper lip and gums, and his doctor said he was not eligible for surgery or radiation because of the location and depth of the cancer. John learned for his particular case he was eligible for an oral pill, Erivedge (vismodegib), which is a prescription medicine used to treat adults with basal cell carcinoma that has spread to other parts of the body and cannot be treated with surgery or radiation. John is still taking the medicine today. Like all medications, Erivedge is associated with serious side effects and has the potential to harm an unborn baby. Always consult with your doctor on possible side effects.
“For the first time in my life, I recognize the dangers of skin cancer and the sun,” John said. “I now have a routine to protect myself from harmful sun exposure, especially when I’m on the golf course, including wearing sun screen and protective clothing, and think it’s important for everyone to schedule an annual appointment with their physician.”
It’s never too late to protect yourself from the sun. Dr. Keith LeBlanc Jr. of The Skin Surgery Centre recommends these preventative tips:
- Have a Routine to Stay Protected: It’s important to stay protected from the sun year-round, even when it’s cloudy. Wearing sunglasses that block ultraviolet rays and applying sunscreen with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher can help limit exposure. Wear a hat to cover your head and clothes that cover your arms and legs, if possible. Seek shade when the sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.5
- Know What to Look For: Basal cell carcinomas often appear on the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders and back. Most commonly, they appear as open sores that don’t heal, reddish patches or irritated areas, shiny or pink bumps and scar-like areas.6 It’s important to perform skin self-exams monthly and to see your doctor every year for a professional exam.7
- Understand Treatment Options: If diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, consult with your doctor to discuss treatment options that might be right for you. If caught early, surgically removing the affected area or applying a medicated cream may be all the treatment a patient needs. However, once the cancer spreads to other areas of the body, treatment becomes more complex and may involve the use of targeted therapies, radiation, chemotherapy and other treatments. 8
Important Safety Information and Indication
Erivedge is a prescription medicine used to treat adults with a type of skin cancer, called basal cell carcinoma, that has spread to other parts of the body or that has come back after surgery or that a healthcare provider decides cannot be treated with surgery or radiation.
It is not known if Erivedge is safe and effective in children.
Erivedge can cause a patient’s baby to die before it is born (be stillborn) or cause a baby to have severe birth defects.
For females who can become pregnant:
- Females who can become pregnant should talk with their healthcare provider about the risks of Erivedge to their unborn child.
- Their healthcare provider will do a pregnancy test before the patient starts taking Erivedge.
- In order to avoid pregnancy, patients should use birth control during treatment and for 24 months after their final dose of Erivedge. Patients should talk with their healthcare provider about what birth control method is right for them during this time.
- Patients must talk to their healthcare provider right away if they have unprotected sex or if they think that their birth control has failed.
- Patients must tell their healthcare provider right away if they become pregnant or think that they may be pregnant.
- Erivedge is present in semen. Males should not donate semen while they are taking Erivedge and for 3 months after their final dose.
- Male patients should always use a condom, even if they have had a vasectomy, during sex with female partners who are pregnant or who are able to become pregnant during treatment with Erivedge and for 3 months after their final dose to protect their female partner from being exposed to Erivedge.
- Male patients must tell their healthcare provider right away if their partner becomes pregnant or thinks she is pregnant while they are taking Erivedge.
Exposure to Erivedge during pregnancy:
If a patient thinks that he or his female partner may have been exposed to Erivedge during pregnancy, they must talk to their healthcare provider right away. If a patient becomes pregnant during treatment with Erivedge, she or her healthcare provider should report the pregnancy to Genentech at (888) 835-2555.
Before taking Erivedge, patients should tell their healthcare provider:
- If they are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.
- If they are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. It is not known if Erivedge passes into breast milk. Patients should not breastfeed during treatment and for 24 months after their final dose of Erivedge. Patients should talk with their healthcare provider about the best way to feed their baby during this time.
- About all the medicines they take, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.
While taking Erivedge, patients should avoid:
- Patients should not donate blood or blood products while they are taking Erivedge and for 24 months after their final dose.
- Patients should not donate semen while taking Erivedge and for 3 months after their final dose.
Possible Side Effects of Erivedge:
Bone growth problems. Bone growth problems have happened in children who have been exposed to Erivedge. These problems may continue even after stopping treatment with Erivedge.
The most common side effects of Erivedge are: muscle spasms, hair loss, change in how things taste or loss of taste, weight loss, tiredness, nausea, diarrhea, decreased appetite, constipation, joint pain and vomiting.
Erivedge can cause absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea) in females who are able to become pregnant. It is not known if amenorrhea is permanent. Patients should talk to their healthcare provider if they have concerns about fertility.
These are not all of the possible side effects of Erivedge. Because everyone is different, it is not possible to predict what side effects any one person will have or how severe they may be. Patients should talk to their doctor for medical advice about side effects.
Side effects may be reported to the FDA at (800) FDA-1088 or www.fda.gov/medwatch. Side effects may also be reported to Genentech at (888) 835-2555.
For more information on skin cancer, visit gene.com/skin-health.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images (man with doctor)
2Sun Protection. Cancer Trends Progress Report –2009/2010 Update. National Cancer Institute. Available at http://progressreport.cancer.gov/sites/default/files/archive/report2009.pdf
3American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers. Available at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/basal-and-squamous-cell-skin-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
4Mayo Clinic. Basal cell carcinoma. Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/basalcell-carcinoma/symptoms-causes/syc-20354187
5American Academy of Dermatology. Protect your skin from the sun. Available at https://www.aad.org/public/kids/skin/taking-care-of-your-skin/protect-your-skin-from-the-sun
6Skin Cancer Foundation. Basal Cell Carcinoma – Causes and Risk Factors. Available at https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/basal-cell-carcinoma/bcc-causes-and-risk-factors
7Skin Cancer Foundation. Basal Cell Carcinoma Prevention Guidelines. Available at: https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/basal-cell-carcinoma/bcc-prevention-guidelines
8American Academy of Dermatology. Basal Cell Carcinoma: Diagnosis And Treatment. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/basal-cell-carcinoma#treatment