Sun in the winter and summer can be a blast in Utah. Bluebird skiing in the Wasatch and hot days in Southern Utah’s red rock canyons. But a major downside to all that sun? Utah ranks first in the nation for rates of melanoma skin cancer.
“It’s one of the more rare skin cancers, but it is the most deadly, especially if it’s not caught early,” said Dr. Yelena Wu, an assistant professor in dermatology at the University of Utah and investigator at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from Utah’s high elevation and the prevalence of fair-skinned residents who get sunburned easily are major factors behind the high rates of skin cancer here.
“Many people may look out the window and say ‘Oh, it’s a cloudy day so UV must be low.’ But actually, even when it’s cloudy outside UV can still be fairly high, especially here in Utah,” Wu said.
Dr. Wu suggests the following for preventing excess UV exposure and reducing cancer risks:
1. Download a free smartphone app that includes a UV Index. The UV Index goes from 0-10, with higher UV days running May through October in Utah. Medium and high UV Index days are the most important to be proactive against risks to your skin.
2. Wear protective clothing. Protective clothes include broad brimmed hats, light, long sleeve shirts and pants, and sunglasses, as well as sun umbrellas.
3. Use sunscreen of at least 30 SPF. Dr. Wu suggests brands with minerals like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, because they’re more effective.
4. Consider an annual skin exam as part of an overall health check-up. Yearly skin exams with a dermatologist can help catch skin cancer like melanoma early.