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Dermatologist explains why Colorado mountain residents need to be aware of sun damage threat


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    COLORADO (KCNC) — Like most people in Summit County, Arthur Hardin loves his Colorado outdoor time. Split between running, hiking, biking, skiing and whatever else he can do at 9,000 feet up, he takes in a lot of natural beauty. He also takes in a lot of UV rays from the sun.

“My skin cancer was actually discovered by my barber,” Hardin said. “She found them, she saw them, suggested I go over to a dermatologist, and they looked at it and go ‘yeah you got a couple of em,’ and I had ’em done yesterday.”

Hardin is now sporting a wrap-around bandage, covering where he had a basal cell carcinoma and a pre-melanoma clump, both scraped from his head. He’s now expected to make more frequent check-ins with a dermatologist. It’s a lot more than he’s used to, but he knows it’s the smart move.

“Normal doctor exams in the past, they had seen a couple of ’em, three, four, five years ago.” Hardin said, referencing trouble spots on his skin. “Those were all negative so I never had it done otherwise!”

Breckenridge Dermatology’s Dr. Winslow Blankenship said our mountain communities are a recipe for sun damage, and it’s partially why it’s so important to get checked up, aside from your standard preventative care (SPF 30+ and sun blocking clothing.)

“We have a lot of people with fairer skin types that like to play outside, right?” Blankenship asked. “That’s year round, playing outside, so a lot of accumulative exposure that adds up and increases the risk of skin cancer.”

That doesn’t account for the extra UV light exposure, which is especially harmful, across the board in Colorado but worse the higher you get.

“Another example, airline pilots, they are very high risk for skin cancer because they are 30-40,000 feet up closer to the sun increased radiation and increased exposure,” Blankenship explained.

So, some common myths we’re debunking (that you can use to sound way smarter than your friends!)

Not all skin cancer is melanoma. That is by far, the most dangerous type, but it’s also the least likely to be on you, by far. If you do have a cancerous growth, it’s probably either basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma.

“They account for about 98% of skin cancers, 2% of skin cancers are the melanomas,” Maryam Asgari, Chair and Professor of Dermatology at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus said. “Most melanomas if caught early can be cured, it is really a small portion of that 2% that go on to cause mortality.”

Colorado also has a reputation for having more people diagnosed with skin cancer than any other state, a downside to those three hundred days of sunshine we’re always touting.

“For us in Colorado, the latest figures are that about 100,000, 21.9 get diagnosed with a skin cancer every year,” Asgari said. “Nationally that number is 19.7 and I know that doesn’t sound like a very big different, but it actually is and puts us in the highest per capita rate.”

The good news about all this is all forms of skin cancer, between all three types, are easily treated if they are caught early. That’s why our dermatologists are stressing getting checked at least once a year.

“Every time you are out there if you are out there long enough to get color on your skin or burn, that is actually damage to your skin that is happening,” Asgari said. “So get out there, enjoy it, but use your sunscreen and use your sunprotective clothing and be safe about it.”

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