Vail health: Schedule skin checks for melanoma; early detection is key (column) |

Vail health: Schedule skin checks for melanoma; early detection is key (column)

Jean Liu Urquhart, M.D.
Health Insights

The month of May means warmer temperatures and more exposure to the sun, which makes it the ideal time to raise awareness of melanoma, the most serious and deadliest form of skin cancer.

Melanoma is a skin cancer that can appear on the skin at any time, suddenly and without warning, or can arise in an existing mole. Signs and symptoms include a changing mole that shows asymmetry, an irregular border or various colors. While melanoma is typically found on the skin, it can also arise in the eyes, scalp, nails, feet and mucosal areas.

Colorado risks higher

If you think it will not affect you, then reconsider. Melanoma does not discriminate by age, race or gender. Risk factors for developing melanoma include multiple sunburns as a child, family history of melanoma, having greater than 50 moles, having fair skin, history of tanning bed use and being a male older than 50. The most common location on the body for men to develop melanoma is on the back; for women, it is on the arms and legs.

Living in Colorado, our risk for developing skin cancer is higher due to more time spent exposed to the sun from an outdoor lifestyle and because the ultraviolet light exposure is so much more intense at high altitude.

Since the 1980s, melanoma incidence rates have doubled. Melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death in young women ages 25 to 30. The incidence of people younger than 30 developing melanoma is increasing faster than any other demographic group.

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As with so many other diseases, early detection is key. Melanoma is treatable with high survival rates if it is detected early. While prevention is the best bet, making sure you are participating in skin checks to detect melanoma early is a critical tool in dealing with melanoma. Studies show that getting your skin checked annually decreases your chance of dying from melanoma by 50 percent. It is also important to have a dermatologist evaluate your skin, as people cannot directly see 30 percent of their own skin.

But better than treating it is preventing it. It's a cliche, but it is true that sunscreen is essential — every day. Sun protection includes avoiding the sun from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. when UV light is strongest; wearing protective clothing, hats and sunglasses; and using 30 SPF or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen on exposed skin.

May is Melanoma awareness month. Mountain Dermatology Specialists is offering a free skin cancer screening to the community on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon. To schedule an appointment, contact Mountain Dermatology Specialists at 970-926-1800 or visit

Jean Urquhart, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist and board-certified dermatopathologist who has published articles regarding topics in melanoma, pediatric dermatology, dermatopathology and skin cancer screening. She is the founder of Mountain Dermatology Specialists.

If you go …

What: Skin cancer screening.

When: 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday, May 10.

Where: Mountain Dermatology Specialists, 105 Edwards Village Blvd., Unit G211, Edwards.

Cost: Free.

More information: To schedule an appointment, call 970-926-1800 or visit