Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and applying sunscreen are two ways you can reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. Illustration by Sofie Koski

Valley View, a nonprofit health system based in Glenwood Springs, is taking a proactive approach to ensure the residents of the sun-drenched Roaring Fork Valley keep their skin cancer-free. On Oct. 11, from 5:30 to 7pm, it will host a “Girls Night Out” skin cancer prevention event at Roaring Fork Family Practice, 978 Euclid Ave. in Carbondale.

Dr. Alexandra Donovan, an oncologist at Valley View’s Calaway-Young Cancer Center, will present information to educate the public about the causes and symptoms of the different types of skin cancer, measures you can take to reduce sun-exposure risks and scheduling follow-up skin cancer screenings at Valley View’s dermatology department in Glenwood Springs.

The event will offer free skin cancer screenings, which can help identify potential skin cancer concerns in their early stages, enabling prompt intervention. Donovan assures that, despite the event’s title, all are welcome to attend. Skin cancer impacts men and women equally, she said.

Colorado is in the top three states in skin cancer, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, which manifest in various ways.

“While fair-skinned people are more likely to develop skin cancer, it does not discriminate and can affect any skin tone,” said Donovan, adding, “Sun exposure early in life can appear as skin cancer 20 to 40 years down the road.” 

“Most [types of skin cancer] are not fatal. The most deadly is melanoma, but the others are much more prevalent and morbid — meaning they have a lot of side effects resulting from the treatment because surgeries can be disfiguring,” Donovan shared. “Keeping track of your own moles is helpful, and if you notice something is changing, you should have it evaluated because the earlier you tend to something, the better to minimize the risk of a big surgery, and if we can catch things early, hopefully, we can save lives as well.” 

If you love mountains, sunshine and an outdoor lifestyle, you’re in the right place, but it may be a bit of a double whammy for your skin health. While the Rocky Mountains offer scenic views, a bluebird-sky climate and a wide range of outdoor recreational activities, Donovan said the ozone layer — which protects our skin from harmful ultraviolet radiation (UV) — is thinner in high altitude regions. Colorado has 300-plus sunny days a year, second only to Florida. We can still enjoy all the fun and beauty this place offers, but Donovan suggests we take precautions to reduce our skin cancer risks. Donovan made these recommendations for people of all ages, regardless of skin tone:

• Sunscreen: Applying sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) rating of at least 30 and reapplying to exposed skin every two hours or after swimming. 

• Clothing & eyewear: Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and polarized-lens sunglasses. Exposure to UV radiation can harm the eyes and is associated with conditions like cataracts and macular degeneration. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long-legged pants to shield the skin from the sun or wearing UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing or swimwear.

• Conditions & timing: UV rays can penetrate clouds and reflect off of snow and sand. Avoid time outside when the sun is at its strongest between 10am to 2pm.

•Self-monitoring: Know your skin, and if changes in the size, shape, color or texture of moles are detected, consult a dermatologist.

• Tanning beds: They emit UV rays and should be avoided. Donovan said several states have implemented restrictions or regulations on their use, particularly for minors.

• Screenings: Regular screenings and early detection improve treatment outcomes

• Education: Severe sunburns, especially early in life, can result in skin cancer later in life. Educate yourself and your family on protecting your skin for a lifetime.

More information about Valley View’s skin cancer event can be found at VVH.org/GNO. The event is free and open to the public, but an RSVP emailed to events@vvh.org is required for a free skin cancer screening appointment.