With the recent weather change in Northern Arizona, many individuals are soaking up the sun, wearing less protective clothing and enjoying more outdoor activities. These are all great things to enjoy as long as they are done in moderation and with protective measures from the sun's damaging ultra-violet (UV) rays - which penetrate deep into the skin gradually destroying its elasticity, causing premature aging and contributing to skin cancer.
Arizona has the highest rate of skin cancer in the country and is second only to Australia for the highest incidence in the world. In addition to the many sunny Arizona days, the sun's rays increase in intensity as the altitude increases, placing individuals in Northern Arizona at an even higher risk for skin cancer.
Skin cancer accounts for about one-third of all reported cancer malignancies in the U.S. The most common skin cancers are basal-cell carcinoma and squamous-cell carcinoma. Melanoma is the least common skin cancer, although it presents the most serious threat.
White, non-Hispanic men are at the greatest risk for developing skin cancer - six times more likely than any other racial/ethnic group. Individuals who have any of the following risk factors are at higher risk for developing skin cancer over their lifetime:
Presence of certain types of moles
History of skin cancer
Use of indoor tanning devices
Multiple and/or severe sunburns
Blistering sunburns as a child or teen
Chemical exposures to tar, arsenic, coal or paraffin
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends individuals, especially those with risk factors, participate in regular self exams of their skin. This increases an individual's awareness of how their skin looks and feels, and allows recognition of any new growths or changes in skin or mole appearances.
Protection and early detection are the best defense against skin cancer. The vast majority of skin cancers can be cured if diagnosed and treated early.
Other defenses include limiting sun exposure during the time UV rays are strongest - 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., using sunscreen with an SPF factor of 15 or higher, wearing wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and clothes made of tightly woven fabrics and darker colors and seeking shade during peak hours to allow for some extra protection from the sun.
For more information about the Cancer Centers of Northern Arizona Healthcare visit CCNAH.com or call (928) 773-2261.
Jeff Axtell, M.Ed., is the director of the Cancer Centers of Northern Arizona Healthcare. Is there a health topic you'd like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o Flagstaff Medical Center, Public Relations, 1200 North Beaver Street, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit FlagstaffMedicalCenter.com.