Melanoma, or cancer of the skin, is one of the most common kinds of cancer with an estimated 76,100 new cases reported nationally in 2014. Skin cancer is also the most preventable cancer, because it is most often caused by exposure to the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays.
Nationally, 19.7 of every 100,000 people will get skin cancer every year. The number is higher in Colorado, with about 21.9 of every 100,000 people receiving a skin cancer diagnosis every year. And skin cancer is on the rise in Colorado. In 2003, 18.8 of every 100,000 people were diagnosed with melanoma. In 2007, Colorado’s rate was 21.2 per 100,000.
So why is there more skin cancer in Colorado?
Intense sun at high altitude may be a factor. Many Colorado mountain communities have higher rates of skin cancer. For example, Pitkin County, which is mostly above 8,000 feet, reports a melanoma rate of 32.2 for every 100,000 people. Similarly, Gunnison, Garfield, Eagle and Chaffee counties all report that their incidence of melanoma is more than 30 for every 100,000 people.
Counties below 6,000 feet, including much of Colorado’s Front Range, report fewer cases. Denver County has 15.9 cases per 100,000 people per year. Adams, Larimer and Elbert counties all have rates under 20 per every 100,000 people per year. But the risk of cancer doesn’t have to prevent outdoor fun. Preventative measures such as sunscreen, long sleeves and hats all help protect the skin.