The first Monday in May every year is known as Melanoma Monday - a day to spread awareness of the deadliest form of skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that one person dies from melanoma every hour. Utah ranks number one in the nation for incidences of the deadly disease.
"The conditions in Utah act as a perfect storm of skin cancer risks," explains John Zone, MD, the Chairman of the Department of Dermatology for University of Utah Health. "Utah has a high population of northern European descendants, a high elevation that decreases UV protection and a population that values time outdoors."
Over time, individuals of northern European heritage have become the majority population in Utah. With fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue eyes individuals are more prone to sun damage.
"Salt Lake City is actually as far south as Rome, Italy," says Glen Bowen, MD, clinical director of the Melanoma and Cutaneous Oncology Program at Huntsman Cancer Institute. "People in a Mediterranean climate traditionally have more olive skin tone and are therefore more genetically prone to withstanding sun damage. Living in a climate not conducive to the overall nationality means an increased risk."
Dr. Bowen continued, explaining that the decreased UV protection also makes Utahans more vulnerable than many other sunny states.
"For every 1000 ft. elevation, the amount of UV radiation increases by 7 percent and Salt Lake City residents live 4,226 feet above sea level. That means residents burn 30 percent faster than those that live in Los Angeles."
Melanoma is 97 percent curable when detected in its early stages. However, if it has spread to other portions of the body the five-year survival rate can drop as low a 15 percent.
"The most important thing to keep in mind about melanoma is that early detection is the key," Bowen explains. "Check your skin, take note of all the spots from moles to freckles to age spots."
Skin checks should be scheduled annually. If you see any kind of change on one of your spots you should have a dermatologist examine it as soon as possible. Use the ABCDE warning signs of skin cancer to conduct self-skin exams in addition to an annual skin check.