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posted on July 02, 2009 12:00
Idaho Has Among Highest Skin Cancer Rates In US
 
Idaho has among the highest rates of new melanoma diagnoses and deaths in the U.S., prompting health officials to encourage all Idahoans to protect themselves from sun exposure to prevent the potentially deadly disease.
 
 “People don’t perceive that Idaho has a skin cancer problem,” says Patti Moran, who manages the state’s Cancer Prevention and Control program. “But the death and diagnoses rates are very telling. We know that many Idahoans spend time in the sun taking advantage of our great outdoor recreation opportunities. We’re urging people to remember to protect their skin every time they go outside to prevent skin cancer.”
 
Idaho is drawing national attention for its high skin cancer rates and is one of 10 states being targeted by the Environmental Protection Agency as part of an education campaign to get people to use sunscreen, wear clothing that protects skin from harmful UV rays and stay out of the sun when its rays are most intense.
 
Nearly half of white adults in Idaho reported at least one sunburn in the past year. Those who experience sunburns average three a year. With each sunburn, the risk for developing skin cancer increases. Overexposure to the sun is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer.
 
Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays in as little as 15 minutes. While fair-skinned people are in general at a higher risk, everyone should try to reduce sunburns and decrease sun exposure. People should:
 
  • Avoid sun tanning and tanning beds.
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Sunscreen should be applied at least every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeve shirts, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
  • Seek shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s UV rays are most intense.
 
People should also routinely examine their skin for any changes or abnormalities. Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer and if not caught early can spread to other parts of the body and can be fatal. Melanoma survivor Carol Julius knows the importance of early detection first-hand. She waited a year to check out a troublesome spot – a delay that resulted in intensive treatment and surgeries.
 
 “See a health care provider as soon as possible if something doesn’t seem right” says Julius. “A friend noticed a spot on my ankle and suggested I get it checked but I waited a year. I was shocked to hear I had melanoma that had spread and I needed three surgeries to remove the cancer from my body and interferon therapy for one year. Now I never miss an opportunity to remind my family and friends to cover up, use sunscreen and get screened for skin cancer.”
 
Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer among teens and young adults. Skin protection needs to start at birth, says Moran. She is working with public health districts throughout the state on No Sun For Baby, an educational effort to provide new parents with information on protecting infants from sun exposure. 
 
Parents should not use sunscreen on babies under six months of age except on small areas like fingers or noses. Babies should wear clothing that protects them from the sun including hats and sunglasses or they should be kept in the shade. 
 
“Protecting skin from the sun’s damaging rays is important beginning at birth and continuing throughout our entire lives,” says Moran. “Damage from the sun is cumulative. We need to protect our skin now to prevent serious health problems later on.” 
 
For more information, visit the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare web site at www.healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.
 
(Editors: For more information please contact DHW Public Information Officer Emily Simnitt at 208-334-0693.)
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