Earl R Stoddard, MD

September 29th, 2015

Many people still do not realize that unprotected sun exposure can lead to skin cancer which in rare cases can be fatal. Dermatologists are trained to detect skin cancer early when it can easily be treated and cured with simple office based surgery. However, when skin cancer has become deeply invasive due to rapid growth or neglect, simple office based surgery is not sufficient. In these instances, these patients may require systemic cancer treatments and/or radiation in addition to surgery. Fortunately, the Portneuf Cancer Center is available to help care for these patients.

Idaho is one of our country’s greatest outdoor treasures. We live here because of the bounty of high-quality outdoor activities both in the summer and in the winter. But with outdoor activities comes exposure to sun.

The reality is that one in five people will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer during their lifetime. At present, over 2 million cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed each year in the US. The number one cause of skin cancer is unprotected sun exposure.

While it is more commonly recognized that skin cancer affects lighter skinned individuals, skin cancer can and does occur in all populations regardless of skin pigmentation.

In July of 2011, KTVB news reported that the Daily Beast named Boise as the top skin cancer city in the US. “The online publication based their rankings on the number of clear days a (major) city has each summer and skin cancer rates and deaths for every 100,000 people.” According to the study, “Boise has 51 clear summer days and for every 100,000 people in Ada County, 3.9 people die from skin cancer and another 27.3 are diagnosed with skin cancer.” The same study ranked Salt Lake City 4th.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the risk of melanoma doubles after just five sunburns. And it is estimated that 80 percent of the sun damage experienced by the average individual occurs before they reach the age of 18. Unfortunately, skin cancer from excessive sun exposure does not appear until decades later after the damage has been done. Therefore, it is important for everyone, especially for the young, to minimize the risk of developing skin cancer later in life by developing good sun protective behaviors.

Along with sunscreens, experts suggest sun protective clothing including swimwear and hats. For sunscreen to be most effective, sunblock must be properly applied (be sure to read directions on the bottle for application and quantities) to all exposed skin one half hour before sun exposure. If outside for more than two hours, it is important to know that one application of sunblock is not enough for all day sun protection; it must be reapplied every two hours and after each toweling off.

Even with vigilant sun protective behaviors, the American Academy of Dermatology advises that each individual perform a thorough monthly self-skin examination. Instructions on how to perform an exam can be found at www.aad.org/public/exams.

If areas of concern are found during a self-exam, contact a dermatologist. For all adults over 40, a complete skin examination by a dermatologist or by a primary care physician should be performed annually.

Practicing excellent sun protection will reduce our risk of developing skin cancer. Yet, despite one’s best efforts, skin cancer can still occur. Fortunately, if detected early, skin cancer is usually very treatable.