SALT LAKE CITY — Atticus Teter believes skin cancer happens to "old people." But he cares enough to help change that perception, with an award-winning illustration of an everyday person standing in the shade of a tall, crayon-drawn tree.
"It's someone putting on sunscreen, with a hat and a long-sleeved shirt, in the shade," the 6-year-old Rowland Hall kindergartener clarified. Teter's drawing was one of 27 local finalists in the national SunWise with SHADE poster contest, which is sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
More than 1,500 students from at least 40 Utah schools participated in the contest this year, the first year the state has been a part of it.
The winning poster — depicting an original work of art that promote sun safety and awareness — will be displayed through the remainder of 2012 at the National Children's Museum, in Washington, D.C.
"We think it is very important to teach kids how to protect themselves from the sun," said Stephanie Klein, a dermatologist with the University of Utah and founder of SunSafe Utah, an educational outreach organization. "We want kids to enjoy the wonderful things we have to offer in Utah and to be outside in the environment. But we also want them to protect their skin and reduce the incidence of melanoma."
Utah has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the country, according to the EPA. Melanoma is responsible for at least 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths and the rate of new diagnoses was 37 percent higher in Utah than the national average from 2001 to 2005, the latest EPA data available.
Nearly 60 people in Utah die of melanoma every year. Klein said early detection of skin cancer can mean the difference between life and death.
The Huntsman Cancer Institute will be hosting free skin cancer screenings next Saturday, April 14, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For appointments, call 1-888-424-2100.
"I always wear a hat and sunglasses, except at school," said Rocky Saluone, a sixth-grader at Saratoga Shores Elementary School. The 12-year-old said he hopes his poster design, which depicts the sun's harmful rays and what can be done for protection, helps to decrease the number of deaths each year from skin cancer.
Saluone was awarded the grand prize for his drawing. He won a digital camera from the EPA and his unique artwork will land on a billboard near his school — a prize donated by local Reagan Outdoor Advertising — as well as represent Utah among dozens of entries from other states, when the contest is officially judged in the nation's capital later this month.
Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, melanoma survivor MaryAnn Gerber and others spoke to the artist finalists and their families Friday, during an awards ceremony held at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Bell said people used to think it was healthy to "baste themselves like turkeys" in the sun.
"It is so good, and seems so natural, but down the road sometime, it might be harmful, so we just need to be careful," he said.
Utah lawmakers recently adopted new regulations restricting anyone under age 18 from using a tanning salon without approval from a parent or guardian. Bell said the new law is a step in the right direction.
"Most people get the majority of their sun exposure before they're 18, so limiting sun exposure when you're young is very, very important," Klein said. "We form a lot of habits when we're young, so developing sun-protective habits when you're young is also very important."
Anyone with a personal or family history of skin cancer is at a greater risk of getting it themselves, as well as people with fair skin and blue, green or gray-colored eyes. An excessive number of moles is also something to look out for and so is time spent in the sun, Klein said. Utah's high altitudes put residents at risk as well.
Kim Judd said she worries about her family's skin, as there's a history of skin cancer on her husband's side. She got her 8-year-old daughter, Madison, involved in the poster contest "to give her a reason to remember sun protection measures."
"It's so easily preventable," Judd said.
For more information on sun protection and skin cancer awareness, visit www.huntsmancancer.org.
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