Living At A Higher Altitude May Increase Risk Of Skin Cancer

May 11, 2018


Utah ranks number one in the nation for melanoma death and incidence and the number of cases is rising, according to the Utah Department of Health and the Utah Cancer Registry.

Chad Bittner, chief medical officer with Optumcare Utah, said he thinks one reason for the high number of cases is the amount of time people in Utah spend outside doing things like skiing, biking, hiking and playing sports.

“We do have a lot of sunny days here,” Bittner said, “so there is a lot of exposure when those things are happening. And people don’t always think about what they can do to prevent the exposure and the risk of developing skin cancer.”

He also said altitude may play a role.

“We are a state that tends to be at a higher altitude than other states,” Bittner said. “And so that altitude, having less of the earth’s atmosphere to filter out some of those ultraviolet rays, can increase your risk too.”

Although he said it is important to remember to wear sunscreen in the winter when doing things outside like skiing, he says sunscreen becomes even more important in the summer.  

“If you’re looking at it from a time of year,” Bittner said, “the warmer months, you have the increased exposure because you’re wearing less clothing. So even though you may have a shirt on in the summer, some of those rays can actually penetrate your clothing. But in the colder months, we’re wearing more clothes so there’s less exposure.”

Bittner said people who are fair skinned, blonde or red headed all have a higher risk of skin cancer, in addition to younger women who are more likely to go tanning and less likely to wear sunscreen.