Utah's skin cancer rate is "sky high," Utah health officials say, urging residents to cover up and use sunscreen every day.

The state's rate is among the 10 highest in the nation. Utah Department of Health data show that the rate of melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — is increasing. In 2005, 554 Utahns were diagnosed with melanoma, up from 494 in 2004. Every year, melanoma kills an average of 63 Utahns.

The good news is that skin cancer is preventable when sun protection measures are used consistently. UDOH and the Utah Cancer Action Network recommend the following:

• Apply sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher 30 minutes before spending time outdoors and reapply every two hours.

• Cover up by wearing hats, long sleeves and sunglasses.

• Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when you are most likely to be exposed to ultraviolet rays that damage and age your skin; and

• Seek shade when you can't avoid the sun.

The American Cancer Society expects 62,480 new cases of melanoma and 8,420 deaths from the disease to occur in the United States during 2008.

The national melanoma rate has been climbing since the 1970s. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the overall U.S. melanoma rate is 17 per 100,000 persons, while Utah's rate is 25 per 100,000. Utahns are at higher risk for skin cancer because of the state's high elevation, predominantly fair-complexioned population and frequent sunny days.

The District of Columbia has the lowest incidence at just over 5 per 100,000. Other states with high rates are Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Vermont, and New Hampshire. The ACS estimates that in Utah, 65 to 90 percent of melanomas are caused by the sun's ultra- violet rays.

In addition, more than 1 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancers, most of which are highly curable, occur each year across the nation, making skin cancer the most diagnosed form of malignancy.