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Ranking rates St. Petersburg among the worst cities for skin cancer risk

Dr. Vernon Sondak is the chair of the Department of Cutaneous Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center. [Courtesy of Moffitt Cancer Center]

Dr. Vernon Sondak is the chair of the Department of Cutaneous Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center. [Courtesy of Moffitt Cancer Center]

ST. PETERSBURG — Living in a place called the Sunshine City has its benefits.

This isn't one of them.

Gloriously sunny St. Petersburg is among the worst cities in the nation for your skin, according to a new analysis by the online finance network WalletHub.

The study , which ranked 150 U.S. cities from best to worst, examined factors such as climate, melanoma incidence rate, skin-cancer death rate, and number of tanning salons for every 100,000 people.

St. Petersburg came in 147th. The only cities ranked lower were Shreveport, La. (148); Akron, Ohio (149); and Port St. Lucie, Fla.(150).

Not all Florida cities fared as poorly. Tampa placed 90th.

Orlando broke the top 20, coming in 16th.

What differentiated the three Central Florida cities? For one, St. Petersburg had the highest skin-cancer death rate: 7.25 deaths for every 100,000 people, according to the analysis.

In Tampa, the rate was 3.8 deaths for every 100,000 people.

What's more, St. Petersburg had fewer dermatologists and skin-care centers per capita than Tampa, as well as fewer stores stocked with skin-care products, WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez noted.

"Treatment is the biggest differentiation point between these neighboring cities," she said.

Nationally, the three top-ranked cities were all in Texas: El Paso, San Antonio and Austin.

El Paso, which borders Mexico, had the fewest melanoma incidences per capita: 5 cases for every 100,000 people, Gonzalez said.

To be sure, the rankings aren't an exact science. But Gonzalez said the analysis could help people assess their own personal risk of skin cancer, which affects some 5 million people in the United States annually.

"In America, skin cancer is more common than breast, colon, lung and prostate cancer combined," she said.

St. Petersburg's low ranking didn't surprise Dr. Margaret Kelleher, a dermatologist whose St. Petersburg practice is a division of Florida Dermatology & Skin Cancer Specialists. She said many of her patients come in with one or more melanomas.

"In this area, we have a lot of transplants from the Midwest," she said. "They really seek the sun with tanning salons. When they come down here, they want to get it even more."

Dr. Vernon Sondak, chair of the Department of Cutaneous Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, would not comment on the study's methodology. But he pointed out that Moffitt has one of the world's largest skin-cancer treatment centers, and said that "counts for a lot."

"The people of the Tampa Bay area are fortunate that they have a resource like that available to them," he said, adding that Moffitt saw more than 1,500 new melanomas in 2015. "They are also fortunate to have excellent dermatologists who are interested in more than just doing Botox injections."

Sondak said Tampa Bay area residents can reduce their risk of developing melanoma or other types of skin cancer by taking proper precautions, such as avoiding the sun at peak exposure hours, wearing protective clothing and using sunblock.

He also advises people to check their skin periodically — and go to the doctor if they see something new or bothersome.

"If we want to be the best city for our skin … we have to be the best about protecting our skin and defending it if there is a problem," he said.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.

How to protect your skin this summer

• Avoid sun exposure from about 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

• Wear sun-protective clothing. More retailers are specializing in sun-safe apparel, but any long-sleeve shirt and pair of pants will do, said Dr. Vernon Sondak, chair of the Department of Cutaneous Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center.

• Use sunscreen. If you are going to be outside for several hours during peak exposure times, use SPF 30 or greater. Seek out "broad-spectrum" sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays and apply liberally, Sondak said. "Most people put on less than half the amount that the manufacturer tests," he said.

• Reapply sunscreen, especially after sweating or swimming.

• Avoid tanning beds. Period.

• If you notice something unusual on your skin, see a doctor. "The melanoma survival rate is better and improving all the time," Sondak said. "But (the prognosis) is still the best if it is picked up and treated at the earliest possible stage."

• Play it safe, regardless of your skin tone. "Nobody is immune to skin cancer," Sondak said.

Ranking rates St. Petersburg among the worst cities for skin cancer risk 05/24/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 24, 2016 3:40pm]
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