Be Sun Smart: Stay covered, use sunscreen, get checked

May 22, 2014

As the days grow longer and the sun’s rays get warmer, outdoor activities call. A day of biking or hiking is healthy and the sun feels good and can even elevate the mood. Still, with any activity, it pays to guard against problems, including the sun. The ultra-violet rays might not feel dangerous, but as we know, they can cause a myriad of unhealthy conditions from premature aging to skin cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC), more than one million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, accounting for nearly one-third of all reported cancers. When found early, most skin cancers can be treated easily. Melanoma is less common, but it packs a serious threat with its potential to spread throughout the body.
High elevations present an additional danger, putting Northern Arizona residents at increased risk. While Arizona’s skin cancer average is already high, Coconino and Yavapai Counties have very high rates.

Those at risk for developing skin cancer:
White, non-Hispanic men face the greatest threat from skin cancer at six times that of any other racial/ethnic group. And nearly half of all people with fair skin or light eyes run the risk of developing at least one skin cancer by the age of 65.
Additional risk factors for developing skin cancer include:
• Long-term sun exposure
• Working in an outdoor profession
• Family history of skin cancer
• Presence of large or atypical moles
• Use of indoor tanning beds and lights
• Multiple and/or severe sunburns
• Blistering sunburns as a child or teen
• Chemical exposures to tar, arsenic, coal, paraffin or radiation treatments

Be sun smart
When you’re heading outside:
• Generously apply on sunscreen with an SPF factor of 15 or higher, and reapply frequently
• Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and protective, tightly-woven clothing
• Minimize sun exposure particularly during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Get checked regularly for skin cancer or potential skin cancer
The best protection against skin cancer is a skin check up. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends monthly self-exams of the skin, especially for at-risk groups. Familiarity with the skin through regular exams will alert you and your physician to changes in the skin or unusual growths or changing moles. The vast majority of skin cancers are curable if diagnosed and treated early. 

Free skin cancer screenings in Flagstaff – May 31
The Cancer Centers of Northern Arizona Healthcare and the Northern Arizona Dermatology Center have teamed up to offer free skin cancer screenings, education and skin cancer prevention tips for the Flagstaff community and surrounding areas.

The free screenings are Saturday, May 31, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the cancer center located at Flagstaff Medical Center, 1200 N. Beaver St. Services provided during the clinic include a full-body skin cancer screening, skin cancer education and additional information on sun safety. Walk-ins will be seen as time allows, between 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. To schedule an appointment, call 928-774-5074.

Lindsay Thomas, R.N., M.S.N., O.C.N., is the director of the Cancer Centers of Northern Arizona Healthcare. The centers, located in Sedona and Flagstaff, are devoted to the comprehensive treatment and early diagnosis of cancer through advanced technology and individualized care. For more information, visit Is there a health topic you’d like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o Flagstaff Medical Center, Public Relations, 1200 North Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit