By Steve Blanchard - February 25, 2020
A new study appearing in the International Journal of Cancer reports that nearly 91% of melanoma cases diagnosed in the United States between 2011 and 2015 can be attributed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure. Of the states considered the most at-risk for UV radiation exposure, adjusted for the size of the state’s population, Florida is—as you might have expected—in the top 10.
With 29.2 UV-attributable melanoma cases per 100,000 people, Florida is not just in the top 10 in this listing, but it is number 2 in the USA for total number of melanoma cases, with the American Cancer Society expecting 8,750 invasive melanomas in our state in 2020. The top states on the melanoma/UV exposure list? Hawaii, with 65.1 melanoma cases per 100,000 and Utah with 36.3 cases per 100,000 (due to the increased penetration of UV at higher altitudes).
Regardless of where Florida falls on the list, it’s important to pay attention to your skin and get regular screenings, according to Dr. Vernon Sondak, chair of Moffitt Cancer Center’s Department of Cutaneous Oncology.
“Skin cancers, including melanoma, are right there on the surface and that means we have the opportunity to find them early - when treatment is least invasive and potentially most effective,” said Sondak. “We love the Florida sunshine, but the sun is not always our friend. Protect yourself from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, and get your skin checked at least yearly. Moffitt’s Mole Patrol® is our chance to take this message to the people of Florida.”
TOP 10 LISTHawaii
The Mole Patrol® will offer free skin cancer screenings as part of its annual Spring Swing® Sun Safety Tour through Florida’s baseball parks on Feb. 29 in Fort Myers at JetBlue Park at Fenway South and March 1 in Port Charlotte at Charlotte Sports Park. The tour is a partnership between Moffitt and the Tampa Bay Rays. Additionally, the Mole Patrol® will be in St Pete for the Grand Prix on March 15 and in Tampa at MacDill Air Force Base for Airfest 2020 on March 29.
Many Americans don’t realize how much the sun contributes to melanoma and other skin cancers, and in a state like Florida where outdoor activities are encouraged, the exposure to potentially cancer-causing UV rays escalates. The report also found higher UV-attributable melanoma rates in younger females compared to males, largely because of indoor tanning usage patterns.
"Young patients, children and adolescents in particular, are now more likely to be sent to a dermatologist and have something biopsied than they were 20 years ago,” Sondak said. “Back then it just didn’t happen regularly.”
Protecting yourself from the sun and paying attention to any changes in moles or freckles is key to keeping your skin healthy, Sondak said. And it’s easier now more than ever to keep yourself protected.
“All clothing has some degree of protection from ultraviolet light,” Sondak said. “We call it the UPF, instead of the SPF we use for sunscreen. I like to start by explaining the basics: a white T-shirt right out of the bag has a UPF of about 6, which is about the equivalent of putting on a sunscreen of 6. That is not very protective.”
Sondak also suggests applying sunscreen around and underneath clothing, even if it has a higher UPF rating.
“Use some sunscreen especially around the sleeves and neck where clothing might pull away a little bit,” he said.
And, of course, if you notice anything irregular on your skin, get it checked by a doctor or at a community screening event.
It’s always better to be proactive than to react too late.