Things You Need To Know

Utah Leads Nation for Skin Cancer Risks

Prevention Is Key

Amelia Nielson-Stowell Nov 13, 2017

Incidences of the deadly skin cancer melanoma remain steady across the U.S. — except in Utah, where the numbers continue to rise. In fact, Utah leads the nation in the number of skin cancer deaths and occurrences.

“Utahns must be extra vigilant about sun protection,” says Keith Duffy, a doctor and professor in the dermatology department at the University of Utah School of Medicine and investigator at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Duffy highlighted the alarming trend at the Zions Med Skin Cancer Awareness event in June, where he spoke to more than 120 Zions Bank clients and employees. The event was the first in an ongoing series of quarterly health care events hosted by the bank. 

Utah’s Scary Sun Risks

There are several reasons why Utah is more of a skin cancer hot zone than other coastal states famous for their sunshine.

  • Utah averages 270 clear days of sunshine annually.
  • Utah is at a higher elevation, and the sun’s harmful UV radiation increases by 4 percent per 1,000 feet.
  • Water and snow reflect up to 80 to 100 percent of UV radiation.
  • Most Utahns spend time outside enjoying their hobbies.
  • Utah’s population is mostly Caucasian, whose lighter skin is more susceptible to sun damage. 

“Sun damage is accumulative over an individual’s lifetime and is not reversible in many ways,” Duffy says. “The DNA damage has already taken place and cannot be reversed.”

Prevention Starts Now

It’s never too late to become more protective about sun exposure, Duffy says. Daily, Utahns should wear 30+ SPF sunscreen. It’s also smart to limit sun exposure, especially during the harsh 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. hours.

“One of the biggest problems is people thinking of sunscreen as a one-and-done situation,” Duffy says. “You have to keep applying it generously, or remain in the shade, to stay protected.”

In the long term, schedule annual skin checks with a dermatologist, and self-examine skin monthly. Sun damage ages the skin by causing wrinkles and brown spots. But moles are the best indicator of problems. If moles physically change in appearance, it could be a sign of skin cancer. Duffy encourages patients to look for the ABCDEs of melanoma on their moles:

  • A — Asymmetry, where one half of the mole doesn’t match the other.
  • B — Border, the mole’s borders are irregular, blurred or notched.
  • C — Color, the mole’s color is not the same throughout.
  • D — Diameter, the mole’s size exceeds a quarter of an inch.
  • E — Evolving, the mole’s shape or color changes over time.

“Catching skin cancer early saves lives,” Duffy says. Melanoma found in early stages is 99 percent curable; discovered in later stages, the chances of survival drop to 17 percent.

The next Zions Med event will be in January and focus on health goals for the new year. “We want to take a more active role in helping the public deal with their health care,” says Garrett Barnes, senior vice president of Zions Bank’s Premier Client Services. Health care is the fastest-growing sector of the economy. More people have access to insurance today than a decade ago and people are living longer.

“Myself and our bankers have a passion for meeting the needs of our doctors as they experience this change in the industry,” Barnes says.

Call 844-ZionsMED (844-946-6763) for more information.

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