Wyoming's High Elevation Increases Skin Cancer Risk

Jul 8, 2016

Clouds over the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming.
Credit Conniemod, Wikipedia Creative Commons

Wyoming Department of Health officials say Wyoming’s relatively high elevation could put people here more at risk for skin cancer.

“The thought process may be something closer to ‘Oh, I’m just going to go for a 30-minute run,’”said Morgan Powell with Wyoming Integrated Cancer Services. “But what they don’t realize is that the sun can damage our skin in as little as 15 minutes at our altitude.”

Powell said because of Wyoming’s higher elevation, people in the state receive more damaging UV rays from the sun than in lower elevation states like Florida. Wyoming's lack of air pollution, which filters UV rays, also contributes the impact of those rays in the state.

This skin damage can lead to the development of potentially deadly skin cancer.

She said awareness of how damaging UV rays can be is crucial to lowering the skin cancer incidence rate in Wyoming. A study done by the Centers for Disease Control in 2013 revealed only 13 percent of men and 29 percent of women used sunscreen regularly in the U.S.

Powell said keeping sunscreen in the car or in another convenient place to use can help prevent skin cancer by making skin protection available in every situation.

“Thinking about going hiking is something you don’t necessarily associate with bringing sunscreen,” she said. “If you keep sunscreen in your hiking backpack or in your car, then it’s there when you get there, and you can put it on.”