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Utah Leads U.S. in Melanoma Rates, Health Officials Issue Call to Action

courtesy University of Utah Health Care

The US Surgeon General issued a call to action Tuesday to prevent skin cancer.  It’s the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the country, and Utah has a higher rate of melanoma than any other state.

The call to action focuses on reducing ultraviolet or UV exposure, which causes the vast majority of melanomas. Lynn Nilson, Director of the Utah Department of Health cancer control program says the rate of melanoma in this state is 61% higher than the national rate, and the death rate from melanoma is 30% higher.

“We have a very high elevation in the state of Utah, and we have a very active outdoor lifestyle,” Nilson says. “Utahns are very active, we’re very recreational, we’re outside all the time. Sunlight is reflected by the snow and by water, and those all increase the chances of melanoma as well.”

Nilson says the Department of Health is always working to educate people about the importance of wearing sunscreen and a hat, staying in the shade, avoiding indoor tanning, and avoiding the outdoors between 10am and 4pm when the ultraviolet rays are typically the highest.

“It’s an ongoing education, and we know that most skin damage happens under the age of 35,” Nilson says. “From the time you’re a child, from the time you’re a teen, you’re just outside more often, so it’s super important to make sure that parents are educated and that kids are wearing sunscreen.”

Utah has made some progress on reducing the use of tanning salons. In 2011, more than one in 10 Utah teenagers reported using an indoor tanning device at least once in the previous year. The rate dropped to about one in 14 after a 2012 state regulation required a parent’s consent for a teen to use a tanning device.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that melanoma is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the country. Skin cancer in general is the most common, and basal cell carcinoma is the most frequently occurring form of skin cancer.

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