With year-round sunshine, doctors say living in Hawaii brings a greater risk of getting skin cancer than in other states.
"Because of our proximity to the equator, we do have the highest risk," said Kevin Cassel, of the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii. Cassel is also part of the Hawaii Skin Cancer Coalition, a group comprising representatives from the American Cancer Society, the state Department of Health and the Hawaii Dermatological Association.
The American Cancer Society estimates there are 310 new cases of melanoma, the deadlier form of skin cancer, in Hawaii annually. Cassel said about 5,000 new cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer occur here each year, appearing on faces, hands and other sun-exposed areas of the body.
"What’s different about Hawaii is our relatively non-Caucasian-based population," said Dr. Shane Morita, an oncologic surgeon at the Queen’s Cancer Center.
But while fair-skinned people are more susceptible to melanoma, no ethnicity is immune from the disease. A subtype of melanoma, acral lentiginous melanoma—mostly diagnosed in Asian- and African-Americans—is not uncommon in Hawaii, Morita said, although exact cases numbers are not available.
This type of melanoma is found on the palms, soles and nail beds. Popular reggae artist Bob Marley died from acral lentiginous melanoma on his foot in 1981.
Morita said skin cancer is the most common type of cancer for 25- to 29-year olds, and that one in 50 individuals will get melanoma in their lifetime.
Dr. Amy Reisenauer, head of Kaiser Permanente’s dermatology department, believes the most effective way of preventing any type of sun damage to your skin is to simply cover up with hats, long-sleeved shirts and pants rather than shorts.
"Those things cannot come off or rub off," she said. "Five or more sunburns double the risk of skin cancer."