Skin cancer prevention starts with the sun
More cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States annually than all other cancers combined
By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente
The average elevation in Colorado is 6,800 feet, putting residents and visitors here at risk for more harmful ultraviolet sun exposure thanks to the state’s proximity to the sun.
The high number of annual sunny days is part of Colorado’s allure, but those sunny benefits can create consequences if you don’t protect yourself.
“Sunscreen or moisturizer with sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher should be applied in the morning before going out for the day and reapplied copiously and frequently, particularly if participating in aquatic adventures or suffering from profuse sweating,” said Dr. Carol Venable, Internal Medicine Physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Frisco Medical Offices. “We recommend skin protection any time people are out in the sun. Wide-brimmed hats; loose, long-sleeved shirts; and long pants, as well as foot protection are advised in addition to sunscreen.”
The most immediate consequences from UV exposure are uncomfortable and often painful sunburns, but over the long-term, sunburns are known to increase the risk of melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer.
The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that skin cancers are typically concentrated on the face, where the nose and ears are particularly at risk.
More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the United States than all other cancers combined, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
In Colorado, National Cancer Institute data shows an increased number of skin cancer diagnoses in the high country.
“Many Colorado mountain communities have higher rates of skin cancer. For example, Pitkin County, which is mostly above 8,000 feet, reports a melanoma rate of 32.2 for every 100,000 people. Similarly, Gunnison, Garfield, Eagle and Chaffee counties all report that their incidence of melanoma is more than 30 for every 100,000 people,” according to the Colorado Health Institute. “Counties below 6,000 feet, including much of Colorado’s Front Range, report fewer cases.”
Anyone who likes tanning should reconsider the increased risks of UV exposure. Those who use indoor tanning beds, for example, are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Tanning is not advisable, either outside or in a tanning salon. It is also helpful to avoid the peak hours of UV exposure, typically 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Venable said. “We always recommend a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher and wide-brimmed hat with protective clothing to help prevent skin cancers. Just as you might cover a turkey you are roasting with aluminum foil to protect it from burning, you need to cover yourself with protective gear and sunscreen. “
In order to spot the warning signs of skin cancer, look for new or changing skin lesions, Venable said. She references the ABCDEs of melanoma, which stand for Asymmetry, a Border (that is irregular), Color (that varies), Diameter (often the highest concern is for anything greater than or equal to 6 millimeters), and Evolving or changing lesions. Looking for these signs at home is important, but some people should also consider more frequent visits to the doctor for skin checks.
“The frequency of skin checks depends heavily on personal and family history, as well as risk factors,” Venable said. “We recommend that patients with first degree relatives with melanoma have an annual skin check with Dermatology.”
Benign, or noncancerous, moles are usually symmetrical, have smooth borders, are all one color, are smaller in diameter and look the same over time, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
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