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Leggett: Skin cancer awareness should be all year in Valley of the Sun

photo illustrating skin cancer
More than 85% of melanomas are caused by exposure to UV radiation from the sun, which is abundant in Arizona. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress.com)
Tom Leggett | Point of View

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with over 5 million cases diagnosed each year. Arizona has one of the highest rates of skin cancer cases in the world, second only to Australia.

There are two main types of skin cancer: nonmelanoma skin cancers, like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Melanoma is one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, but the survival rate is 99% when detected early, compared to only 27% once it spreads.

More than 85% of melanomas are caused by exposure to UV radiation from the sun, which is abundant in Arizona. Since Arizonans spend a lot of time outdoors, we are at a higher risk of skin cancer.

Unlike other cancers that develop inside the body, skin cancers form on the outside and are usually visible. It is important to regularly examine the skin, either at home or with a healthcare provider.

The good news is that there are now more advanced and efficient options for detecting skin cancer. For instance, Sonora Quest Laboratories recently started offering the DermTech Melanoma Test in collaboration with DermTech Inc.

The DermTech Melanoma Test uses a non-invasive Smart Sticker to collect skin cells from the surface and test them for genetic markers associated with melanoma. It can rule out melanoma with over 99% reliability, reducing the need for unnecessary biopsies and specialist referrals. Arizonans can access this test through their healthcare providers within the Sonora Quest network.

Another promising technology, called confocal scanning laser microscopy, may soon be used to examine melanoma lesions. Currently, it is only used in research studies and not widely available in medical centers.

To maintain good skin health, most Arizonans should have their skin examined by a professional every year. To minimize the risk of melanoma, I encourage Arizonans to reconsider their sun protection practices. Here are some sun safety tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Seek shade whenever possible.
  • Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.
  • Use a wide-brimmed hat to shade your face, head, ears and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.

Most dermatologists recommend using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Higher SPF numbers provide more protection against UVB rays. Apply sunscreen generously and reapply every 90 minutes.

Whether you schedule a skin check with your dermatologist, get a DermTech test from your healthcare provider, or simply update your sun protection routine, Skin Cancer Awareness Month is a great time to prioritize your skin health and recommit to year-round care.

Editor’s note: Tom Leggett, senior director of business development at Sonora Quest Laboratories, has lived in Arizona for nearly 15 years, and knows the importance of skin protection firsthand, as a lover of the outdoors – including hiking, biking and camping.

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