Colorado Melanoma Foundation planning for the 'Sun Bus,' a sun safety classroom on wheels

Posted at 7:30 PM, Jun 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-05 13:18:57-04

The students in David Mack’s biomedical sciences class at CEC Early College spent much of this past year studying the effectiveness of sunscreen and its impact on their skin.

“They’re studying genetics here,” Mack told Denver7’s Lisa Hidalgo. “And they study not just ‘wear sunscreen’ and the preventative factors, but truly what is happening on the cellular level.”

That change starts with the UV rays from the sun. 

People who live in the Mile High City are exposed to 26 percent more UV rays than those who live at sea level.

That number grows as you get higher: At 10,000 feet you’re exposed to 50 percent more UV rays. At 14,000 feet, that number increases to 70 percent. The more UV you’re exposed to, the greater your risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers.

“Colorado is, I think, one of the highest UV exposure states in the country,” Dr. Neil Box said. 

Box is a skin cancer researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and one of the founders of the Colorado Melanoma Foundation.

He and Mack are working with the high school students at CEC Early College on a curriculum that will ultimately be taught on the “Sun Bus” -- a mobile classroom that will be able to take lessons about sun safety to schools and community events.

“Teaching kids about good living and healthy living is going to translate for the rest of their lives,” Dr. Box said.

That’s important because skin damage is cumulative and more than half of your lifetime exposure to the sun comes before age 18.

And while just a small percentage of skin cancer patients are kids, some of those who do have skin cancer are diagnosed with deadly melanoma.

“We’re taught all these important concepts and pre-calc and algebra II and how to write a very awesome essay, but we never learn about what is actually damaging us,” said senior Hugo Burciga.

Hugo is hoping the research he’s done in his biomedical sciences class changes that.

“I would like to have something that I’m doing in college in a couple of years be available to high school students and even middle school students so they can see how their bodies are affected and what they can do to change sooner than I was able to,” he said.