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Colorado Sunshine Does No Favors For Skin Health

DENVER (CBS4) - With some 300 days of sunshine every year, Colorado is one of the sunniest places in the country. It's really no wonder people love to explore the state's great outdoors.

On top of all those sunny days, Colorado also has some of the highest elevations of any state. Together, it can actually lead to some dangerous conditions for your health – skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, it's estimated nearly 2,000 Coloradans will be diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in 2020.

Roxborough State Park
(credit: CBS)

"Colorado has some of the highest UV exposure levels in the country," Dr. Neil Box of the University of Colorado's Cancer Center said during an interview on CBSN Denver. "Melanoma is historically the most dangerous form of cancer," adding basal cell and squamous carcinoma are the most common types of skin cancer.

Melanoma skin cancer is the fifth highest cancer diagnosis in Colorado, and it can be fatal.  Some 6,850 people are expected to pass away in 2020 from melanoma skin cancer; at least 130 of those deaths coming from Colorado.

One of Box's former patients, Mark Laing, took part in the virtual interview. He explained he was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer 10 years ago, noting men are at a higher risk.

"I was diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma," he told CBSN Denver's Kelly Werthmann. "Stage 3 is where it's just in a mole on your body, but it's actually metastasized somewhere else."

Laing said he did a chemotherapy-based treatment, which seemed to work. Yet a follow-up appointment revealed his cancer spread.

Geof Stephenson hiking generic dog walking trail
(credit: CBS)

"Two years later, we were doing follow up scans and that's when we found it in my lung, so it became a Stage 4 diagnosis," Laing said.

Thanks to advanced treatment offered at the CU Cancer Center, Laing said doctors were able to eradicate the tumor within a couple of years. He's now been in remission for five years, and offered a bit of advice:

"Keep a good look at yourself," he said. "Watch for changing moles – the size, coloring. If you have anything that you're worried about, make that appointment with your dermatologist."

With summer right around the corner, more people are bound to spend more time outside. Box said it is important to use sunscreen to help avoid skin cancer of all types.

(credit: CBS)

"You can trust sunscreen to keep you safe," he said, "but we recommend sunscreen be used with a comprehensive sun safety program. That includes when you're outside for long periods of time use shade where you can, wear sun safe clothing and hats, and cover your skin wherever possible. Use sunscreen liberally."

LINKS: CU Anshutz Cancer CenterCancer Statistics Center

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