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Be sun smart – Protect yourself and get screened


Jeff Axtell, M.Ed.

With summer on its way, many people are ready to soak up the sun, wear less clothing and participate in more outdoor activities. The sun and warm weather are wonderful to enjoy as long as they are done in moderation and with protective measures against the sun’s damaging ultra-violet (UV) rays. These UV rays penetrate deep into the skin, gradually destroying its elasticity, causing premature aging and contributing to the development of 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 and squamous-cell carcinomas. If detected early, basal- and squamous-cell skin cancers are easily treated and taken care of. Melanoma is the least common skin cancer, although it presents the most serious threat in regards to its potential to spread to other parts of the body.

The sun’s rays increase in intensity as the altitude increases, placing individuals in Northern Arizona at an even higher risk for skin cancer. Coconino and Yavapai counties have the highest rates of melanoma-type skin cancers in Arizona, a third higher than the state average.

 White, non-Hispanic men are at the greatest risk for developing skin cancer – six times more likely than any other racial/ethnic group. Those who have any of the following risk factors are at higher risk for developing skin cancer over their lifetime:

  • Long-term sun exposure
  • Fair skinned
  • Outdoor profession
  • Presence of certain types of moles
  • 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. The vast majority of skin cancers can be cured if diagnosed and treated early.      

Protection is the best defense against skin cancer. It is important to:

  • Limit sun exposure during the time UV rays are strongest – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF factor of 15 or higher applying repeatedly while in the sun
  • Wear wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and clothes made of tightly woven fabrics and darker colors
  • Seek shade during peak hours to allow for some extra protection from the sun.

In an effort to promote early detection and education, the Cancer Centers of Northern Arizona Healthcare (CCNAH) and the Northern Arizona Dermatology Center (NADC) are sponsoring a free skin cancer screening from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, June 4, at the Cancer Center located on Flagstaff Medical Center’s West Campus, 1200 N. Beaver Street. Physicians from NADC will perform skin cancer assessments and provide education on how to stay sun-smart. 

Appointments are recommended. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 928 774-5074. Walk-ins will be seen as time allows.

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 N. Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit FlagstaffMedicalCenter.com.



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