Medical experts suggest taking care this time of year to protect yourself from the sun's UV rays.

Health: Melanoma on the increase in Southern Oregon

With the sun beating down in its late-spring brilliance on Southern Oregon, the urge is to shed clothes and exchange sneakers for flip-flops.

If that’s the case, the data miners at one of the region’s largest health insurers want you to think twice before exposing yourself to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s Health of America Report indicates melanoma diagnosis rates are rising along with the temperature.

Data compiled from insurance claims over a four-year period show Jackson County residents, reported as the Medford/Ashland area, have a higher rate of melanoma diagnoses than the national average. The 6.6 percent increase here exceeds the national average of 4.3 percent, and is higher than the major population centers of the Willamette Valley.

The Portland Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Vancouver, Washington, matches the national average of 4.3 percent more melanoma diagnoses in the last four years, while Salem claims were up 3.7 percent, and the Eugene/Springfield region saw a 3.5 percent increase.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, with nearly 9,500 people diagnosed with it every day. In 2013, 237,000 BCBS members within a sample of 41 million people were diagnosed with melanoma, compared to 257,000 in 2016. Despite the increase, melanoma made up just 2.8 percent of all skin cancer diagnoses.

For people who can’t get enough sun and resort to tanning salons, the Skin Cancer Foundation has an even stronger warning. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and by using a tanning salon for the first time prior to age 35, your risk increases 75 percent.

Skin exposure to ultraviolet light is as likely to cause cancer as smoking cigarettes,” said Trent Haywood, senior vice president and chief medical officer for BCBSA. “Tanning beds should be avoided altogether in light of research documenting the strong correlation to skin cancer.”

Findings show that the rate of Blue Cross Blue Shield members living with melanoma more than double when men reach ages 55 through 64 and surpass rates for women in that age range. Women 54 and younger have higher prevalence of melanoma than men. Non-melanoma skin cancer diagnoses are more prevalent in women at 4.6 percent compared to men at 3.5 percent, but the average cost of treating women is $468 compared to $678 for men.

Skin cancer affected 4.3 percent of BCBS members. By taking the skin cancer diagnosis rate found in the study and extrapolating it to 216 million privately insured people counted by the Census Bureau, BCBSA estimates that 9 million privately insured Americans are living with a skin cancer diagnosis.

“Prolonged sun exposure increases your risk of skin cancer, and Southern Oregon receives more sunny days on average than most other parts of the state,” Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon spokesman Jared Ishkanian said Friday. “The findings in this report should encourage people to frequently use sun screen and regularly visit your dermatologist.”

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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