The same sun-splashed scenery and virtually endless recreational opportunities that lure Idahoans outdoors, also are contributing to a life-threatening health condition statewide, health experts say.
Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, is widespread in the Gem State.
From 2007 to 2011, Idaho had the eighth highest rate of melanoma in the nation — and the third highest number of deaths attributed to the disease, according to the Cancer Data Registry of Idaho.
In 2012, 57 Idahoans died from melanoma, according to an Idaho Department of Health and Welfare news release.
Last week, Acting U.S. Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak issued a nationwide “call to action” in an effort to reduce skin cancer cases.
“The rates of skin cancer in our nation are increasing, creating a serious public health concern we cannot ignore,” Lushniak said in a news release.
Patti Moran, program manager for the Idaho Comprehensive Cancer Control Program, said it all starts with proper sun safety. The Idaho Comprehensive Cancer Control Program was established by Health and Welfare in 2005 to produce cancer-prevention educational materials and media campaigns.
“(Comprehensive Cancer Control) suggests staying in the shade between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.,” Moran said. “When in the sun, wear a wide brim hat, long sleeves, long pants if possible, sunglasses with UV protection and, of course, sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or more.”
In addition to hiding from the sun, officials say people should be wary of indoor tanning. It is one of the easiest ways to increase your risk of skin cancer, Moran said.
“Avoid indoor tanning, there’s no safe way to tan,” she said. “Indoor tanning has been labeled as a (International Agency for Research on Cancer) class 1 carcinogen, which is the highest rating. People younger than 30 increase their risk of getting melanoma by 75 percent when they use a tanning bed.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, indoor tanning exposes users to two types of UV rays, UVA and UVB, which damage the skin and can lead to cancer.
Health and Welfare spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr said staying safe in the sun is a matter of life and death.
“We want to make sure people are being reminded to wear sunscreen, cover up and reduce their time in the sun so they are not exposing themselves to life-threatening cancer,” Forbing-Orr said.
Reporter Ali Tadayon can be reached at 542-6746.