Shining the light on skin cancer prevention in Oregon

Here’s a real head-scratcher: Oregon, with its storied rain and heavy clouds, has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the entire country.

How can that be?

For starters, even though much of the state is blanketed in gray for a good part of the year, harmful UV rays still come through. And when the sun does come out, Oregonians are quick to get outside and catch some rays, often exposing themselves to more sun than they should.

With summer just around the corner – and pandemic-related restrictions lifting – it’s a good time for everyone to pay a little extra attention and keep themselves safe in the sun.

“We have been cooped up in our houses for far too long, so we know that everyone’s going to be getting back outside,” said Karis Stoudamire-Phillips, vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Community Initiatives at Moda. “Summer officially begins next month, so we want to bring awareness to the prevention of skin cancer and what people can do to be safe.”

Moda partnered with Oregon Health & Science University in May, which is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, to help spread the word.

Alexander Witkowski, MD, co-director of the OHSU Skin Cancer Imaging Center, said it’s important to apply sunscreen 20 minutes before heading outside and to reapply every two hours. He also said to keep skin covered with long sleeves and a hat, and also avoid the peak hours of sun between noon and 4 p.m.

Although skin cancer is more prevalent in people with lighter skin tones, everyone is at risk without proper precaution.

“People of color need to know that they are susceptible to skin cancers too,” Stoudamire-Phillips said. “Just because you have more melanin in your skin does not mean you’re exempt from skin cancer.”

Witkowski noted that, while there is no cure for skin cancer, early detection is key. In fact, when it’s diagnosed early, there is a survival rate of 98%.

To help with that, Witkowski said to be on the lookout for any unusual moles, especially ones that grow rapidly and have irregular borders. Annual skin checks with a dermatologist are recommended, and OHSU also offers virtual cancer spot checks that can be done remotely.

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