Which States Have the Highest Rates of Skin Cancer and Melanoma?

We’ve all heard the benefits that a little sunshine can give you: exposure to sunlight can improve your sleep, boost your mood, promote weight loss, and strengthen your immune system. And in this day and age when Netflix binge-watching and mindless Internet browsing are practically national past times, going outside and getting some sun is seen as a healthy way to spend your time.

Unfortunately, one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer during their lifetime, and melanoma is responsible for 79% of skin cancer deaths. While some people may be more susceptible to melanoma than others due to genetics, melanoma rates also vary significantly by state. However, the states that are the most and least at risk for melanoma might surprise you.


For example, your immediate reaction might have been to think that states like Florida and California are most at risk for melanoma. In fact, Vermont residents are most at risk for melanoma, followed by those living in Utah, Iowa, and Washington state. These states all have high populations of fair-skinned people, and their most popular outdoor recreation activity is walking/hiking- a dangerous combination for melanoma.

Florida, surprisingly, has one of the lower risks for melanoma, despite having a fair-skinned population of 75% and plenty of beach activities to offer; could it be that people are more diligent about sun protection when visiting Florida? Texas also has one of the lowest rates of melanoma, and the District of Columbia has the lowest in the country. In general, melanoma is more than 20x more common among Caucasians than African Americans. Melanoma cases are higher among women 15-49 years old, but higher rates of melanoma were observed among men over 50 (which could be related to the fact that men are less likely to use sunscreen compared to women).

Tanning beds are a significant factor in melanoma as well, especially among Caucasian women aged 16-25 (one-third of whom engage in indoor tanning yearly). More people develop skin cancer from tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking; in fact, using a tanning bed before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59%.

So, knowing the dangers of skin cancer and what states are most at risk, how and why does skin cancer happen? Factors such as time of day, latitude, altitude, clouds, and reflections off surfaces can all affect your risk of skin cancer. You can prevent skin cancer by limiting exposure to the sun when the rays are strongest, covering up with clothing, wearing (and frequently reapplying) broad-spectrum sunscreen, knowing your family history, and checking your body regularly for unusual moles.

Going outside is one of the best parts of summer. By being smart about skin cancer prevention, you can enjoy the sunshine without worrying about the risk of melanoma.

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