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Death by Sunlight: Wisconsin’s Skin Cancer Problem

Wisconsin is experiencing a surge of skin cancer and melanoma cases. Cases have spiked by almost double the rates compared to 20 years ago, and the state has one of the highest mortality rates of melanoma patients.

UV and Skin Cancer

Most skin cancer and melanoma cases are caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation. While tanning beds contribute to the rising cases in Wisconsin, UV radiation from the sun is overwhelmingly the leading cause. Melanoma cases in Wisconsin are particularly troubling. Wisconsin’s mortality rate for melanoma patients is at 15 percent — even higher than Florida’s 11 percent.

Melanomas develop as harsh UV radiation penetrates into your skin, damaging it and ultimately changing its DNA. Staying in the shade might protect you from direct sunlight, but UV bounces, and you won’t be safe unless it’s dark. Winter might be coming, but the cold does not protect from the sun. Fresh snow reflects UV, doubling your UV exposure if you’re outside. UV damage is also the leading cause of skin aging, so avoid the sun and keep those wrinkles at bay.

Personal Protection from the Sun

Sunblock is effective, but people rarely put it on unless they’re going to the beach. It also requires regular application because it loses efficacy in a couple of hours. If you can’t apply sunblock, consider wearing protective clothing that limits your exposure to the sun. Wear long-sleeve shirts and pants to minimize your skin exposure.

Rodeo might have been canceled this year, but you can still break out your cowboy hats. Most melanomas develop on the face and neck. Wide-brimmed caps can protect these areas from direct sunlight and reduce your UV exposure. On sunny days, bring an umbrella with you. It’s raining in Wisconsin for almost a third of the year, so nearly everyone should be used to carrying an umbrella.

Safeguarding Your Home and Vehicles

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Staying inside is no guarantee of safety. Large glass doors and windows meant to let the light in also bring in harmful UV rays. You can opt to replace all your windows with smart glass, but expect to pay a premium for residential installations. Smart glass allows you to control the opacity of your windows and control when and where the sun can pass through.

A cheaper option is to install reflective glass or apply UV film on your existing windows. UV film can block 99 percent of UV radiation and can make your house a little cooler. Driving in your car also exposes you to harsh sunlight. Your daily 20-minute drives are enough to accumulate UV damage, mostly concentrated on the left side of your body. Make your car UV-proof by lining your windows with UV film. Your windshield comes with built-in UV protection — so you’ll only have to worry about your car’s other windows.

Skin cancer and melanomas are serious problems that can ultimately have fatal consequences. Stay away from the sun and take measures to protect yourself against harmful UV radiation.

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