Schnitzer: Hot Arizona sun even more detrimental to Valley seniors

Arizona has a warm climate all year, so we tend to spend more time outside with less clothing protecting our skin, which increases the risk of skin cancer.

Dr. Cary Schnitzer

Phoenix is one of the Top 10 sunniest cities in the U.S., so it makes sense we see a high number of skin cancer cases.

While many factors come into play, we spend much of our time outside hiking, attending backyard barbeques, participating in sports and enjoying our pools. Unfortunately, many of us go outside without proper sun protection. That needs to change.

Skin cancer is currently the most common form of cancer in the U.S. There are three types of skin cancer: squamous cell, basal cell and melanoma.

Melanoma accounts for about 1 percent of all skin cancers diagnosed in the U.S., but it causes most of the skin cancer deaths. Nationally, Arizona consistently ranks as one of the highest states in melanoma incidence and death, with nearly 24 new cases for every 100,000 people in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the population ages, men are significantly more likely than women to be diagnosed with melanoma. According to the American Cancer Society, the average age of people in the U.S. diagnosed with melanoma is 63.

Melanoma incidences in white men 65 and older is about five times that of the general population, according to the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results program, the national registry of cancer data. According to SEER, in 2011, melanoma incidences for older white men was 168 cases per 100,000 compared to 21 cases per 100,000 in the general population.

While the majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white men over age 55, The Skin Cancer Foundation reminds us that until age 49, significantly more white women develop melanoma than white men and melanoma is more than 20 times more common in whites than in African Americans.  However, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, African Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma at an advanced stage. They also develop the other types of skin cancer associated with ultra violet exposure.

Risk for skin cancer starts early in life but increases as we age. Just a few serious sunburns can increase risk of skin cancer later in life.

Young women are typically in the sun more frequently than men without sunscreen or ultra violet protection, and tanning beds – most often used by women – significantly increase the risk for skin cancer.

Seniors in particular in Arizona, regardless of their skin color, can follow simple steps to lower the risk of developing melanoma:

  • Avoid or limit your time in the sun, especially midday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Wear sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and reapply every two hours
  • Cover up with clothing
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses
  • Avoid tanning and tanning beds

Dr. Cary Schnitzer
Medical director
OptumCare ​of ​Arizona

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