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DHS news release

June 4, 2007


Oregon's clouds don't protect against melanoma; number of cancer cases ranks among the highest nationally

This guest opinion is by Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist in the Oregon Department of Human Services Public Health Division

Length: 454 words


Oregon, known for its rainy and gray days, also claims the nation's fifth-highest rate of sun-caused melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer.


Consider these facts:

  • Since 1996 Oregon’s melanoma cases and melanoma deaths have been steadily increasing.
  • During 2002, the most recent year for which comparable data are available, Oregon ranked ninth among states in melanoma deaths.
  • During 2004, 977 Oregonians were diagnosed with melanoma and 120 died of it.

While the exact cause of all melanomas isn’t known, it’s clear that heavy exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays increases the risk. With bright summer days ahead, protecting skin from the sun -- something many Oregonians don’t think about -- is even more important. Here are some tips:

  • Avoid direct sun, particularly from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Wear a light-weight long-sleeved shirt and long pants if you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors.
  • Use sunscreen when you go outside. Sunscreens with a sun protective factor of 15 or higher and both UVA and UVB protection work best.
  • Wear a hat that shades your face, scalp, ears and neck. If you wear a hat that doesn’t cover your ears or neck, such as a baseball cap, make sure to protect the exposed area with sunscreen.
  • Don’t assume clouds will shield you from the sun. At best they only block 50 to 60 percent of the ultraviolet rays likely to cause melanoma and other skin cancers. 

Children are a special concern, because the heaviest exposure to the sun often occurs in childhood. Just a few serious sunburns increase the risk of skin cancer later in life. Cumulative exposure also is a factor.


Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, but most cases are highly curable if detected early. If you see changes in the size, shape or color of an existing mole, call your health care provider. If you get a new mole with an irregular shape or without a clear border or the color is uneven, or if it’s bigger than 6 millimeters -- about the width of a pencil eraser -- have your health care provider check it out.  


The general risk factors for melanoma include:

  • Prior melanoma,
  • A family history with one or more relatives who had melanoma,
  • Large moles,
  • Sun-sensitive skin, which is more common in people with natural blond or red hair color,
  • History of excessive sun exposure and sunburns in childhood, and
  • Exposure to tanning booths.

Most of us enjoy being outdoors when the weather gets warm. Just be sure to protect your skin when you go outside to enjoy yourself.


Mel Kohn, M.D., is state epidemiologist in the Oregon Department of Human Services Public Health Division. He can be contacted at Melvin.A.Kohn@state.or.us.