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New sunscreen labels not just for the beach, as skin cancer rates show

Sun lovers in Utah, Vermont and New Hampshire might especially be advised to study the new labels on sunscreens. The labels, to appear by next summer, are meant to provide a more accurate guide to sunscreen effectiveness -- and those three states have the highest rates of melanoma.

The highest rates of death from melanoma, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2007, the most recent year available, are in Oklahoma, Kentucky, South Dakota and Delaware. Each year about 4 people per 100,000 die of melanoma in those states, the data show.

The lowest rates of death from melanoma, about 2 people per 100,000, can be found in Hawaii, Louisiana and Nebraska.

Check the CDC’s color-coded map of the U.S. by melanoma rates, which certainly doesn’t correspond to the states with the most sunshine (the Environmental Protection Agency has that kind of map, with the average UV exposure across the U.S.).

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Whatever the reasons for the individual differences between states, UV exposure is thought to be the culprit behind most skin cancers -- the other causes include heredity and repeated exposure to X-rays.

Going forward, sunscreen labels will have to be clearer about their ability to protect against UV rays. They’ll also be allowed to tout their ability to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early signs of aging. The FDA issued guidelines to that effect on Tuesday.

The most common forms of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, aren’t as deadly as melanoma.

Between 1985 and 2008, the incidence of melanomas grew by about 2.6% each year, according to the National Cancer Institute. An estimated 8,700 men and women died from melanoma last year.

The data give reason to slather on sunscreen before going outside. Or before getting in the car: A new study finds that some UV-related skin cancers are more likely to occur on the left arm and side of the face than on the right.

healthkey@tribune.com

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