Skin Cancer Rates in Massachusetts are Higher Than the National Average. Here’s why.

Massachusetts may not be the sunniest state in the union, but it has some of highest skin cancer rates.

A new report from Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Health of America concludes the rate of skin cancer diagnosis in Massachusetts is 5 percent, compared to the national average at 4.3 percent. On the Cape, the report says the rate of diagnosis is 8.6 percent.

It’s an interesting paradox: Skin cancer is caused by UV radiation, yet many Massachusetts residents feel they never see the sun.

There could be a few reasons for the higher rates of diagnosis, explained Dr. Robert O’Brien, a dermatologist at Winchester Hospital.

“In Massachusetts, we have a lot of people who are snow birds, and spend their winters in sunny states, particularly in Florida,” he said. “This means they do outdoor activities here during the summer and then go to a sunny state and do outdoor activities all winter long.”

O’Brien said he sees many patients with skin cancer who are semi-retired or retired. They have more time to spend in leisure activities outside.

It could also be due, in part, to the large population of Caucasians in the state, he said. Massachusetts is known for having a large number of people with Irish or English origins, and these two ethnicities are at higher risk for skin cancer.

“It’s really difficult to change habits,” O’Brien said. “People would be better off wearing sunscreen on exposed areas year round.”

The study found four New England states in the top 10 for skin cancer rates: Connecticut was 3rd, Rhode Island and Vermont were both tied for 4th and Massachusetts was 6th.

The report gathered data from Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Health Index medical claims in 2016. It measures health conditions of those who have private insurance. The data is taken from almost every county in the country.

The exact number of people who develop or die from skin cancers (basal and squamous cells) each year is not known for sure, according to the American Cancer Society. Statistics of most other cancers are known because they are reported to and tracked by cancer registries, but basal and squamous cell skin cancers are not.

To prevent skin cancer, wear sunblock and read more on sun safety from our Lahey Health dermatologists.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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