Preventing Skin Cancer

Tips for not Getting Burned in the Colorado Sunshine

Three best friends having a laugh on the beach

Summertime in Durango is an epic time of year. Hiking, biking, rafting, boating, climbing, and the list continues make for many hours spent in the outdoors. One of the greatest things about living and playing in the Southwest is all of the sunshine, but there is a darker side. Exposure to UV Rays is a known carcinogen that may lead to various types of skin cancer. Furthermore, skin cancer is the MOST COMMONLY DIAGNOSED type of cancer in the United States; In fact, one person dies of melanoma every hour. Here in the Southwest the risk for developing skin cancer is significantly higher as Colorado is among the states with the second highest incidence of skin cancer. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the UV Index for the majority of days in Colorado ranges from high (7+) to extreme (11+) with the peak months being April through September. Given these facts one does not need to spend their days of spring and summer hiding out in a cellar. However, becoming knowledgeable about sun protection can prevent the damaging effects of those beloved rays.

The first step to protecting oneself from developing skin cancer is understanding risk factors. Residing in a certain part of the country is one factor that can increase risk, but skin type and lifestyle are also important factors to consider. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation there are six skin types with varying degrees of risk:

Type I (Very Fair Skin, Very High Risk)- Always burn and never tan.

Type II (Fair Skin, High Risk)- Almost always burn and never tan.

Type III (Olive Skin, Moderate Risk)- Sometimes burn and sometimes tan.

Type IV (Medium, Low-Moderate Risk)- Usually tan and occasionally burn.

Type V (Dark, Low Risk)- Tan easily and rarely burn.

Type VI (Very Dark, Lowest Risk)- Does not burn.

Individuals with skin types I and II should use no less than an Broad Spectrum SPF 30 that contains Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide. Those with skin types III-VI should use a minimum of a Broad Spectrum SPF 15 with Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide. Sunscreen should be applied at least twenty minutes prior to sun exposure and reapplied every two hours.   Wearing protective clothing such as a hat and sunglasses is also advised in addition to avoiding extended exposure during the peak UV hours of 10 A.M. to 4 P.M.   Tanning beds of any type should always be avoided as they significantly increase the risk for developing skin cancer and accelerate the aging process.

Checking for early signs of skin cancer is equally important to preventing skin cancer. Skin cancer that is caught and treated early has significantly better outcomes. The Huntsman Cancer Institute recommends performing a self-exam once monthly and seeing a dermatologist annually. When performing a self-exam it is helpful to remember the ABCDE rule:

A is for Asymmetry- one side does not match the other

B is for Border- edges are irregular, jagged, notched, or blurred

C is for Color- the color is inconsistent, there may be shades of brown, black, pink, white, or blue

D is for Diameter- spots larger than the size of a pencil eraser should be examined by a physician

E is for Evolving- the spot or mole is changing in size, shape, or color

While there are multiple risk factors for developing skin cancer, prevention is as simple as being mindful of lifestyle choices that contribute to sun damage and adding a few steps to one’s routine when prepping for playing in the outdoors.   For more detailed information on skin cancer visit www.skincancer.org, or https://www.cancer.org/cancer/skin-cancer.html .

April Ware has her B.Sc. in Health Promotion and Education from the University of Utah.  She is passionate about helping others live their best life.  For more information on services she can be contacted via email aprilj.ware@gmail.com
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