Risk for skin cancer goes up with altitude

Posted at 11:29 AM, Mar 25, 2016

Living in the beautiful state of Colorado has many benefits.

But it also has one sizeable health drawback—an increased risk for skin cancer.

“Here in Denver, the mile high city, we have 25 percent more U.V. in the ambient light than compared to the same light level at sea level,” said dermatologist Dr. Neil Box.  “At 10,000 feet you’re at 50 percent more U.V. than at sea level. Ultraviolet light or U.V. is one of the main causes of skin cancer.”

Dr. Box and others researchers at the University of Colorado Cancer Center are looking for genetic factors that make some people more susceptible to skin cancer than others.

They tell Denver7 that of the thousands of people in Colorado who will be diagnosed with some kind of skin cancer this year, about 1,500 will be diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest of the skin cancers.

Dr. Box is using state of the art U.V. cameras to encourage more people to get screened for skin cancer and take better care of their skin.

Within seconds of the camera taking two pictures, people can see how much damage the sun has done to their skin.  Damage that you can’t see with the naked eye.

Dr. Box says there are steps we can all take to protect our skin.  While staying out of the sun is the easiest, it’s not always practical in Colorado. He says wearing clothing that covers more of your skin and wearing plenty of sunscreen are easy things we can all do.

But none of these things will reverse the damage that we’ve already done to our skin, which is why it’s really important to protect your children from the sun’s rays.

“Once you’ve got it you’ve got it,” Box said. “But what you can do with a machine like this is monitor it and see how you’re doing at preventing new damage.”

There is a common perception that people with lighter skin are most at risk for skin damage. Dr. Box says everyone is at risk, even those with darker skin tones. 

Regardless of your skin tone, the best thing you can do to avoid damage to your skin and potential skin cancer is avoid getting sunburned.

“People who get more sunburns are definitely at higher risk of getting melanoma and other skin cancers,” said Dr. Box.

If you have questions about your skin damage, Dr. Box and volunteers with Colorado Melanoma Foundation will be at the following events this spring & summer.

  • Frank Shorter Race for Kid’s Health, Sunday, April 10 from 7:00am – 12:00pm, 1st Bank Center 11450 Broomfield Lane, Broomfield, CO
  • Melanoma Night Walk,  Thursday, May 17 at 7:00pm, Old Town Arvada, 7307 Grandview Avenue, Arvada, CO, 80002
  • Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, Saturday and Sunday, July 30 & 31, 2016,  Sloan’s Lake Park, 1700 N Sheridan Blvd, Denver, CO 80212 
  • Mallets for Melanoma, Sunday, August 7 from 10am – 2pm, Denver Polo Club, 6359 Airport Road, Sedalia, CO, 80135
  • Summit Melanoma at Cordillera, Sunday, August 21 from 11 am – 7 pm, Valley course, The Club at Cordillera, Edwards, Colorado 


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