If you were to take a guess at which states are most prone to skin cancer, you would suspect warm, sunny states like California, Texas, or Arizona. The year-round sunshine and UV exposure must put those states at a higher risk for skin cancer, right? When looking at the numbers on skin cancer rates around the country, we were shocked to find those assumptions were the opposite of what the data shows. States with the highest rates of new melanoma cases were actually northern, colder-weather states like Utah, Vermont and New Hampshire.

Key findings:

  • Utah, Vermont and New Hampshire have the highest rates of skin cancer.
  • Texas, Alaska and New Mexico have lowest rates of skin cancer.
  • Men had 160% more cases of skin cancer than women.
  • Nationwide, nearly 44,000 people died from skin cancer over a four-year period.

Rankings

We looked at 2013-2017 CDC Cancer Statistics to find which states had the highest rates of new melanoma cases. Rate of new melanoma cases is a per capita figure of cases per 100,000 people. We also found the total number of new cases for each state and the number of melanoma deaths.

States with the highest rates of melanoma
State New case rate Total new cases Melanoma-related deaths
Utah 40.4 5,248 712
Vermont 37.6 1,505 68
New Hampshire 32.1 2,691 1,053
Minnesota 31.7 9,759 400
Delaware 29.5 1,722 4,479
Idaho 28.1 2,526 813
Montana 27.5 1,725 468
Oregon 27.5 6,602 161
Iowa 27.3 4,863 3,577
Kentucky 27.3 6,861 1,186
Georgia 26.7 14,136 133
Kansas 26.6 4,247 295
Nebraska 26.4 2,704 1,649
Maine 26.2 2,301 1,010
Washington 26.1 10,482 518
North Carolina 26 14,879 477
South Dakota 25.4 1,204 782
Florida 24.8 33,760 469
Arizona 24.5 9,802 248
Pennsylvania 24.3 19,119 674
Maryland 24 8,066 1,045
Wisconsin 24 8,098 1,361
Ohio 23.8 16,192 719
Rhode Island 23.7 1,532 362
North Dakota 23.6 937 985
South Carolina 23.6 6,847 168
California 22.9 47,477 288
Wyoming 22.9 758 413
Colorado 22.3 6,440 229
Massachusetts 22.3 8,969 1,177
New Jersey 22.3 11,689 287
Oklahoma 22.2 4,768 2,183
Hawaii 21.8 1,887 1,410
Arkansas 21.7 3,740 97
Indiana 21.7 7,989 1,923
Alabama 21.6 6,081 605
West Virginia 21.4 2,466 635
Connecticut 20.4 4,464 2,111
Illinois 20.4 14,634 154
Tennessee 20.3 7,710 667
Virginia 20.2 9,444 121
Michigan 20.1 11,681 1,122
Missouri 19.5 6,816 2,585
New York 18.3 20,910 380
Mississippi 17.8 2,943 103
Louisiana 17.6 4,460 1,125
Nevada 16.9 2,708 1,074
New Mexico 16 1,976 365
Alaska 14.3 483 851
Texas 13.1 17,482 102

Sunburns a leading cause of melanoma

How is it that states with some of the lowest amounts of UV exposure have the highest rates of melanoma? The cause is likely due to the risk factors associated with skin cancer. One of the biggest risk factors in developing melanoma is sunburns. Severe sunburns damage the DNA of skin cells, causing new skin cells to grow out of control and become cancerous. The higher rate of melanoma cases in the northern, cold-weather states could very well be due to a higher rate of sunburns compared to southern, warmer states.

Residents of southern states protect themselves better than those in northern states

Skin care and sun protection behavioral habits of people in the northern states compared to southern states could be the difference in melanoma rates. Folks in warm, sunny states are living in an environment where the sun is out almost year-round. Thus, the year-round presence of the sun has created a cultural awareness among residents to protect themselves from the sun by applying an SPF sunscreen daily or wearing protective clothing and hats to guard against harmful UV rays.

Conversely, in colder states, people are not as attuned to protecting themselves from the sun. People in northern states are excited to shed their long sleeves and pants in favor of shorts and short sleeves when the seasons change. Not having sun protection top of mind as people do in warm states, northern folks are more prone to getting sunburnt when the seasons change. The shorter sun exposure without sun protection leaves northern people more susceptible to sunburn.

Men disproportionately affected by melanoma

Men have a rate of 29.5 new melanoma cases compared to 19.4 per 100,000 women. The likely causes of men being disproportionately affected go back to sunscreen usage and work environments. CDC’s Consumer HealthStyles survey found fewer than 15% of men reported sunscreen use compared to 30% of women. The lack of sunscreen usage leaves men susceptible to severe sunburns that are high-risk factors for melanoma.

Male work environments could also play a role in their high rates of melanoma. Outdoor jobs such as grounds maintenance, construction and similar labor professions are occupied by more than 90% men. Given men’s professions have them outside with more UV exposure leaves them at higher risk for sunburns and ultimately melanoma.

States where men and women are most affected by melanoma

Male
Rank State New case rate Deaths
1 Utah 52 3,057
2 Vermont 50.2 873
3 Delaware 39.3 1,045
4 New Hampshire 37.5 1,520
5 Minnesota 35.2 5,502
6 Georgia 35.1 8,414
7 North Carolina 34.8 8,903
8 Kentucky 34.5 3,910
9 Idaho 34.3 1,469
10 Florida 34.3 21,423
Female
Rank State New case rate Deaths
1 Utah 32.6 106
2 Vermont 31.1 38
3 Minnesota 27.8 278
4 New Hampshire 27.7 84
5 Iowa 25 195
6 Nebraska 24.8 93
7 Maine 24.5 90
8 Montana 24.4 51
9 Idaho 23.7 104
10 Oregon 23.5 224

Methodology

We analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to find states with the highest rates of new cancers in the United States. Figures are based on the rate of new melanoma cases in each state. Rate of new melanoma cases is a per capita figure per 100,000 people from 2013 to 2017. States with the highest rankings are states with the highest numbers of new melanoma cases per 100,000 people over a four-year period.