Skin Cancer in Washington State

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Some people are at higher risk for skin cancer than others, but anyone can get it. The most preventable cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, either from the sun or from tanning beds. 

Washingtonians have high rates of melanoma, the most harmful type of skin cancer. If the Puget Sound were a state, it would have the fifth highest melanoma rate in the nation.

What are the Risk Factors?

People with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop skin cancer:

  • Lighter natural skin color
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Personal history of skin cancer
  • Exposure to the sun through work and play
  • History of sunburns, especially early in life
  • History of indoor tanning
  • Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily or becomes painful in the sun
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Blond or red hair
  • Certain types and a large number of moles

What can you do to reduce Risk?

Protection from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is important all year round, not just during the summer or at the beach. UV rays from the sun can reach you on cloudy and hazy days as well as bright and sunny days. UV rays also reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand and snow. Indoor tanning (using a tanning bed, booth, or sunlamp to get tan) exposes users to UV radiation.

The hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Daylight Saving Time (9 a.m. to 3 p.m. standard time) are the most hazardous for UV exposure outdoors in the continental United States. UV rays from sunlight are the greatest during the late spring and early summer in North America.

CDC recommends easy options for protection from UV radiation:

  • Stay in the shade, especially during midday hours
  • Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade your face, head, ears and neck
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block both UVA and UVB rays
  • Use sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 30 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection. See the American Academy of Dermatologist infographic on this page, "How to Select a Sunscreen."
  • Avoid indoor tanning