Salt Lake City – U.S. Acting Surgeon General Dr. Boris D. Lushniak today once again called on Americans to stem the tide of skin cancer by covering up and staying out of the sun. As the state with the highest rate of new melanoma skin cancer cases in the country, the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) is encouraging statewide efforts to protect Utahns from the damaging effects of outdoor ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and indoor tanning devices. Recent data show Utah's rate of new melanoma cases was 31.9 per 100,000 population for the combined years 2007-2011, significantly higher than the perpetually sunny states of Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Florida.
The Utah Cancer Registry shows the age-adjusted incidence rate of melanoma was 61% higher than the national rate for 2006-2010, with a mortality rate 30% higher. People who live in areas with high elevation, warm climates, and where sunlight is reflected by sand, water, snow, and ice have a greater risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. Utah residents’ active outdoor lifestyles likely contribute to that risk.
“We know we can protect ourselves by wearing sunscreen and scheduling outdoor activities in the morning or late afternoon,” said Lynne Nilson, Director, UDOH Cancer Control Program. "As a state, however, we need to not only encourage these behaviors, but also make them easier by providing shade structures in public outdoor spaces, limiting the use of indoor tanning devices, and where possible making sunscreen available and accessible at worksites and outdoor venues," Nilson said.
The use of indoor tanning beds before age 35 also significantly increases a person's risk of developing melanoma. In 2011, more than one in 10 Utah students in grades six through twelve reported using an indoor tanning device at least once in the previous twelve months. After a 2012 regulation required a parent’s consent for a teen to use a tanning device, the rate dropped to approximately one in 14 the next year.
In addition to avoiding indoor tanning, practicing sun safe habits while outside can also help to prevent melanoma. These habits include properly applying sunscreen, staying out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun's ultraviolet rays are the strongest, seeking shade, wearing sunglasses and hats with a wide brim, and wearing pants or long skirts and shirts with long sleeves.
In recent years, members of the state's comprehensive cancer coalition, the Utah Cancer Action Network (UCAN), have worked to increase sun safety habits among Utahns by collaborating with a variety of outdoor recreation facilities on sun safety education programs, hosting free skin cancer screening events, and providing education in schools.