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Early Signs of Melanoma: Age Spot or Skin Cancer?

If you have ever noticed a new dark spot on your skin, you may have wondered if it is simply a sign of aging or something more serious. As older adult’s skin can be sensitive, it is important to guard against skin damage that can lead to skin cancer, and to also ensure any new spots are not more than the normal outer signs of aging.

The Difference Between Age Spots and Skin Cancer

Is it an age spot or skin cancer? An age spot is a brown lesion on the skin. This type of spot may be annoying, but it is harmless. Melanoma also causes brown spots which are usually darker in color. This is the most dangerous type of skin cancer.

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Age Spots

Age spots form due to a combination of age and exposure to the sun. Often an older adult will have them on the back of their hands, face, or arms. Age spots:

  • Have smooth borders.
  • Are uniform in color.
  • Are painless.

Age spots can also group together which makes them more obvious. If you are unhappy with how they look, it is possible to use bleaching cream to lighten them and appear less noticeable.


Melanoma can change color over time, but spots are typically black or dark brown and have ragged edges. They can also be painful or itchy. Be sure to see a doctor as soon as possible if a spot has these early signs of melanoma:

  • Starts to grow quickly.
  • Is very dark in color.
  • Has an irregular border.
  • Has an odd combination of colors, including red.
  • Bleeds, is itchy, or painful.

Keep in mind, melanoma is curable if found in its early stages. Once it spreads, it can compromise internal organs and lead to serious and even fatal outcomes.

How to Prevent Melanoma

Skin cancer of all types and melanoma included are caused by exposure to the sun. Often this exposure took place when the older adult was younger. Even so, it is never too late to start preventing future damage. The easiest way to do so is to follow a few sun safety tips including the following:

  • When in the sun wear protective clothing including sunglasses and a hat that provides shade to the face and neck.
  • Use water resistant sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher.
  • When outside for extended periods of time, use an umbrella to block the sun.
  • Consider applying UV-blocking film to the windows of your loved one’s home.
  • Limit exposure to the sun between the hours of 10am and 4pm as these are the times of day that the sun is the strongest, and an older adult can be sunburned quickly.

While age spots may simply be something an older adult has to live with, melanoma is a different matter altogether. By following a few sun safety tips, you can help prevent skin cancer from occurring in the first place, and with a diligent eye, you can ensure melanoma is caught and treated quickly.