Taras Atamaniv/ShutterstockWhere you live can have a dramatic impact on your health, and that includes everything from seasonal allergies to cancer. New research suggests that when it comes to skin cancer your risk is dependent on your zip code—and the riskiest places to live are not the ones you would expect.
The most common type of cancer in the United States is skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. When health insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield ran an analysis on it’s more than 41 million members and their claims, the insurer discovered that seemingly high-risk geographic areas like California and Hawaii actually had fairly low rates. Florida came in at number one—7.1 percent of the state’s residents have a skin cancer diagnosis. But after the Sunshine State, second place went to Washington, D.C. at 5.8 percent. Next up? Connecticut, followed by Rhode Island, Vermont, and North Carolina.
Tied at 5 percent each are New York, Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Virginia. Notably, California (3.9 percent) and Texas (3.2 percent) were far down the list, and Hawaii (1.8 percent) was lowest of all the states. One possible reason that sunnier states have a lower incidence may be that residents are more aware of skin cancer, more likely to use sunscreen, and more likely to get regular skin checkups compared to people who live in places known for long, dark winters.
Everyone needs to take more precautions, warns study author Trent Haywood, MD, senior vice president and chief medical officer for BCBSA: “Skin exposure to ultraviolet light is as likely to cause cancer as smoking cigarettes,” he says. “Americans should enjoy the sun, but also use the proper precautions to avoid too much exposure to ultraviolet light. Tanning beds should be avoided altogether in light of research documenting the strong correlation to skin cancer.” Here are sneaky places you can develop skin cancer that aren’t on your skin.
Dr. Haywoond says that covering up, seeking shade, limiting UV exposure, and using sunscreen can help prevent skin cancer. And be sure to check your skin for mismatched moles and markings, ones with jagged or irregular borders, inconsistent color or discoloration, change shape, or are more than 1/4 inch in diameter. If you see anything suspicious, make an appointment with a dermatologist right away: Skin cancer is treatable when it’s caught early.
Read more about the 7 skin cancer symptoms you should watch for.