6 people die every month in Costa Rica from skin cancer

January 15, 2013

Experts from the Social Security System, or Caja, on Tuesday asked Ticos to avoid overexposure to the sun and to remain vigilant to detect skin cancer. In Costa Rica, six new cases of skin cancer are reported daily, causing the deaths of six people each month.

According to the National Meteorological Institute, Tuesday was expected to be the hottest day of the week – and possibly of the month – because of fewer clouds and little wind. Temperatures across the country increased by up to 10 degrees Celsius, meteorologist Francisco Poleo said.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer here and case have increased by 25 percent in the first decade of the century, according to Caja records.

“The risk is throughout the country and throughout the year. There is as much risk on a clear day as on a cloudy one, and there is risk at the beach or in the mountains,” Sergio Cortés, a dermatologist at San José’s Calderón Guardia Hospital said.

Caja experts said that Ticos often make the mistake of protecting themselves only at the beach.

“Costa Rica receives more UV radiation in the mountains than at sea level. There is 20-40 percent more UV radiation at an altitude of 1,500 meters than at the beach,” a Caja statement said.

Another common mistake is not using sunscreen because the day is cloudy. However, clouds only block UV radiation by 50 percent, and people can actually suffer severe skin burns if exposed for long periods.

Non-coastal areas have skin cancer rates above the national average, including Pérez Zeledón and Coto Brus (southern region), Turrubares (south of San José), San Ramón (Alajuela), and the Heredia cantons of Belén, Flores and Central.

Cortés said that in order to detect skin cancer early, people should visit the doctor when an injury to the skin does not heal properly or when a mole changes appearance.

“Five sunburns before the age of 18 increase by 100 percent the possibility of skin cancer after 40 years,” he said.

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