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What you can do now to help prevent skin cancer

Posted at 1:23 PM, Jun 02, 2023

About 100,000 Americans will get the same diagnosis this year, and 1 in 10 will die. Melanoma, skin cancer. And did you know that Utah has the highest rate of melanoma in the country?

With school out and vacations planned, the sun is calling many of us outside.

But the joy of all hides a consequence for those of us who aren’t careful…especially in Utah.

“Most Utahns are at elevated risk for melanoma just living at this elevation,” said Dr. Tawnya Bowles, a surgical oncologist with Intermountainwho specializes in skin cancer.

“A lot of people associate skin cancer with small surgery, or maybe no surgery at all. Maybe they do a treatment at home to try to remove this spot. But with melanoma that doesn't work because melanomas are more aggressive, they need more aggressive surgery to really cure them,” said Bowles.

Melanoma caught early often results in a cure. But to catch it in time means paying close attention to your skin.

“So if there's a spot on your skin that just does not look like everything else, and is changing over time, it needs to be checked,” said Bowles.

Keeping ABCDE in mind when looking at your skin helps you know what to look for:

A. Asymmetry where one half of doesn’t look like the other
B. Borders that are irregular
C. Color variety like brown, tan or black
D. Diameter more than ¼ inch (think larger than a pencil eraser)
E. Evolution – change in color, size, shape or new symptoms develop

But let’s jump way down the alphabet to the letter P for prevention.

“We know that we really prevent skin cancer and specifically melanoma when we start early. So, it's true that protecting our kids or grandkids from sunburns and intense sun exposure is important, because that protects them later in life,” said Bowles.

Prevention is simple, but also easy to forget or avoid. First, use sunscreen every day.

“Putting sunscreen on, and really getting used to wearing it all through the year is the most effective way you can really protect from the sun,” said Bowles.

In the winter, putting lotion with SPF on your face in the morning is usually enough, though not always in Utah. Winter sports or outdoor work leads to high exposure rates.

But summer is still most concerning. In June and July Utah averages very high to extreme ultraviolet or UV index ratings.

And when it comes to sunscreen, there are many kinds to choose from. Although all sunscreens work, experts tend to like mineral versions the best.

“The thing about those sunscreens is they last longer, so they're easier to use they stay on the skin is a barrier longer than some of the other sunscreens are like little shield that reflects the UV radiation,” said Bowles.

Next to sunscreen the other best protection is clothing – floppy hats, long sleeves, and swim shirts.

“I want to kind of normalize that it's okay to put your kid in a swim shirt instead of you know, having a no shirt for boys or small bikini top for girls,” said Bowles.

Tap here for more resources and information about skin cancer from Intermountain Health.