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Skin Cancer Scaries: Facts and Prevention of Melanoma

by Megan Kolb

December 2019

Because skin cancers can be very serious and even deadly, Minnesotans should know about a special type of skin cancer that is on the rise in their state. Over the past 20 years or so, twice the number of Minnesotans have been diagnosed with a type of skin cancer called melanoma. According to the state health department, half a dozen people in Big Stone County had melanoma diagnosed along with about 9,000 other Minnesotans during the years 2012 to 2016. Minnesota is now recognized as the state with the third highest rate of melanoma in the country.

Minnesota health department officials note that the most common age group for the diagnosis is between 20 and 50 years old. They also say that women are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed than men of the same age. For men, the most common age of diagnosis is 75 and older. Experts believe that exposure to UV light is the main cause of melanoma: artificial sunlight in tanning beds for women and prolonged sun exposure from outdoor work for men.

Early and prolonged sunlight along with sunburn can increase the chance of getting melanoma. Because summertime is so short in Minnesota, it is hard to keep out of the sun during prime time ultraviolet (UV) rays time that occurs between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm. This is why covering up is so important. Parents and grandparents should make sure babies and kids wear enough comfortable clothing and hats to cover exposed skin. Sunscreen should be used for those areas that can't be covered. Prevention advice for farmers, construction workers, and others that work outside in Big Stone County also includes covering up exposed skin as much as possible and also wear sunscreen.

For young women drawn to the tanning bed, more caution is needed. This has such a strong link to melanoma in Minnesotan women that a law was passed in 2014 keeping youth below the age of 14 out of tanning beds. Experts hope this law will decrease the melanoma cases as this generation ages.

Sunscreens are also very important. The SPF number on these products stands for sun protection factor. The higher the number, the more UV protection. Probably the most important point about sunscreen is that it does have to be applied again and again, every 2 hours if swimming or sweating a lot. For women who want that sun-glow skin, UV-free spray tans or self-tanning lotions are a great alternative.

Although melanoma can be scary, it is important to stay educated about it because it is preventable. In a rural Minnesota county such as Big Stone, skin cancer is common and affects many people of all ages. With continued progress and prevention, however, we may someday see its rates decline.

This article also appeared in the December 2019 issue of the Ortonville Independent.

About the Author

Megan Kolb is a third year medical student at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. She was selected as the Ortonville participant for the school's ROME program, or Rural Opportunities in Medical Education. The program includes teaching student doctors the importance of rural newspapers. As a future rural healthcare leader, Kolb has written this column to provide health information for her ROME community. The information is not for diagnosis or treatment and should not be used in place of previous medical advice provided by a licensed practitioner.