A woman applies sunscreen on a sunny day | Photo by Melpomenem/iStock/Getty Images, St. George News
ST. GEORGE- Summer means fun in the sun for many, but it also signals a time to protect skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays. Overexposure can lead to various skin cancers. This is especially true in Utah, which has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest rate of melanoma skin cancer in the nation.
While many medical professionals attribute the large number of melanoma cases in Utah to the high altitude, Terence Rhodes, MD, Ph.D., medical oncologist at Intermountain Healthcare in St. George, said he could also be other factors because this is not the case everywhere.
“Other states that have high elevations don’t have the melanoma rates that we have, so there are things that we don’t quite understand,” Rhodes said, adding that it’s kind of a gambling as to who will actually develop melanoma regardless of where they live.
“Some people can be exposed to the sun all their lives and never protect their skin and never develop melanoma,” Rhodes said. “However, it is certain that sun exposure is a factor in the development of melanoma.”
The benefit of these disastrous statistics is the medical breakthroughs in the treatment of melanoma. Rhodes said a patient diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma 10 years ago usually only has six months to live. Advanced treatments such as immunotherapy have changed things dramatically. Rhodes said a patient with stage 4 melanoma today could undergo immunotherapy and potentially live beyond five years.
“This immunotherapy reveals the melanoma to the immune system so it can kill the cancer,” Rhodes said. “Immunotherapy is usually about drugs used for a certain period of time.”
check it out
Doctors in southern Utah primarily treat three different types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. All of these types of skin cancer can be caused or exacerbated by the sun.
Most cases of basal cell and squamous cell cancer can be treated by a dermatologist. Melanoma is much more serious and can be life threatening if left untreated. Rhodes suggests that people get a basic check for skin cancer at age 18 and then regular checks in the later stages of life. More frequent checks are needed for those who have suffered a lot of sunburn.
Between checkups, people are advised to monitor their own skin for changes in pigmentation and moles. Below are the ABCDEs of abnormal skin conditions:
- A: Asymmetry. The mole or spot is asymmetrical.
- B: Borders. The spot has irregular or shifting borders.
- C: Color. The color of the stain has changed.
- D: Diameter. The spot is getting bigger.
- E: In evolution. The place has changed over time.
If one or more of these changes are noted, the area should be checked by a dermatologist or GP. If a lump can be felt in the lymph nodes of the neck, armpit or groin, this is another indication that medical attention is needed.
Learn not to burn
The best defense against harmful UVA and UVB rays is to use sunscreen with 30 SPF or higher outdoors. The sun shines most days of the year in southern Utah, making the need for sunscreen even greater in this region. Harmful UVA rays can damage the skin even on cloudy days. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
One of the mistakes people make is not applying enough sunscreen to begin with, or not reapplying it every two hours.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends liberally applying sunscreen to the skin about 15 minutes before going outside. Lips are also susceptible to skin cancer, so it is advisable to use balms that contain sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Lightweight clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses can additionally help protect the skin from harmful sun exposure.
There is a range of sunscreen products available, so most people should be able to find one that works for them. Sunscreen sprays, creams, gels or sticks with an SPF of 30 or higher are recommended.
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