OUTDOORS + RECREATION

Here’s why Utah has the highest rate of melanoma in the nation

Jul 2, 2024, 9:00 PM | Updated: Jul 3, 2024, 3:33 pm

MaryAnn Gerber puts sunscreen on her daughter at their home in Layton in June of 2023. Utah's rate ...

FILE: MaryAnn Gerber puts sunscreen on her daughter at their home in Layton in June of 2023. Utah's rate of skin cancer is double the national average. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has the highest rate of melanoma in the nation according to the National Cancer Institute. The agency reports that between 2016 and 2020, Utah’s incidence rate for melanoma of the skin was 40.8 cases per 100,000 people in the state.

During the same period, the United States average was 22.5 cases of melanoma per 100,000 residents. That puts Utah’s rate of melanoma at nearly double that of the nation.

Dr. Dekker Deacon, a dermatologist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, said there are a few reasons for Utah’s higher melanoma numbers.

“We’re a state with higher elevation than the other states, [we’re at] the high end of the list,” Deacon said. “A lot of people spend a lot of time outdoors recreating.”

But he said there’s one reason above all others for Utah’s high numbers.

“The number one thing when looking at the states that have the highest incidents [of melanoma] across the country would be a predominantly white population,” Deacon said.

Skin tone and skin cancer

Further, according to the American Cancer Society, people with “lighter skin, those with red or blond hair, blue or green eyes, or skin that freckles or burns easily are at increased risk.”

That is not to say that people with other skin tones are less prone to skin cancer.  The Melanoma Research Alliance reports that “cutaneous melanoma, the most common type, is caused by cell damage from ultraviolet light from the sun,” and that “people of color are far less likely to develop this type of melanoma than their white counterparts.

“People of Color still develop melanoma caused by UV light,” the Melanoma Research Alliance continues. “They are also at risk for developing rare melanoma subtypes not caused by the sun, such as acral, mucosal, and uveal.”

Defending your skin against skin cancer

The best defense against melanoma is wearing clothing that covers your skin. Deacon uses truck drivers as an example.

“Patients who’ve been truck drivers for a number of years have far more skin cancers on the left side of their face than the right side. That’s related to ultraviolet radiation coming through the truck window.”

Sunscreen with a high SPF number is the second-best protection against skin cancer

Related: New cancer treatments focus on targeted therapies

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Here’s why Utah has the highest rate of melanoma in the nation