Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. While death rates from melanoma have been stable or falling because of advancements in treatment and diagnosis, the number of new cases of skin cancer has been rising steadily for decades.
Cases of melanoma — one of the most common and deadly forms of skin cancer — doubled in the United States between 1982 and 2011. The annual cost of treating skin cancers was $8.1 billion from 2007 to 2011, more than twice the annual cost in the previous five years.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there will be an estimated 91,270 new cases of melanoma and 9,320 deaths from the disease nationwide in 2018, compared to 65,647 new cases and 9,128 deaths in 2011.
A number of geographical variables can change the risk of skin cancer considerably. According to a statement emailed to 24/7 Wall St. by the US Environmental Protection Agency, because UV radiation is stronger the less atmosphere it must travel through, the risk of increased exposure is higher closer to the equator, in the summer, and around noon.
In addition, according to the EPA: “the higher you are in the mountains, the less atmosphere there is between you and the sun, and UV exposure risk is higher the greater the elevation. Local factors also come into play, as clouds or trees might provide some shade from UV rays, but water, glass buildings, or white sand can reflect UV rays and increase people’s total UV exposure.”
The incidence of melanoma varies between states. To determine which states have the highest rates of melanoma, 24/7 reviewed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While geographical variables can affect UV levels, different factors contribute to a state’s melanoma rate. Because more than 90% of melanoma cases are diagnosed in non-Hispanic whites, states with larger shares of light-skinned residents tend to report a greater incidence of melanoma. Nine of the 10 states with the highest rates of melanoma have populations with higher proportions of white residents than the nation as a whole. This is true for only four of the 10 states with the lowest rates of melanoma.
Exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun, particularly to the point of sunburn, increases the risk of melanoma. However, sunny, Southern states do not have higher rates of melanoma. This could be attributed to greater awareness in sunny areas to the risks and to how residents protect themselves from the sun, rather than how much time they spend in sunlight. For example, residents living in cloudier areas may not use sunscreen as much as a resident living in sunny areas, even though the majority of the ultraviolet radiation penetrates the clouds.
To identify the states with the highest rates of skin cancer, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed melanoma diagnosis and death rates per 100,000 people from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Figures are for 2014, the most current available. Percentages of state populations who are white came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey.