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k3903 BC-KS-SkinCancer-Kansas 2ndLd-Writethru 07-14 0699

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) -- With many rural residents laboring outdoors under the blazing sun, Kansas has a problem with skin cancer.

Kansas has 9 percent more new melanoma cases than the national average, The Hutchinson News (http://is.gd/towt3j) reported, with about 80 Kansas residents dying from skin cancer every year.

"Due to the large number of outdoor workers in Kansas, there is a very high skin cancer incidence," said Dr. Stephen Marshall, a Hutchinson dermatologist. "I personally see five or six nonmelanoma skin cancer (patients) each clinic day and one or two melanoma skin cancer (patients) each month."

A 2009 study by the Center for Disease Control shows that more than a million people in the United States have been diagnosed with skin cancer, making it the most common of all cancers.

Over the years, Bill Heer of Hutchinson has had several suspicious spots removed from his arms, including a few that were pre-melanoma skin cancer. He recalls burning often while growing up on a farm in the 1950s and 1960s.

"A lot of us grew up with an umbrella or buggy top on the tractor, but no protection for the ultraviolet rays," Heer said. "A lot of us out there who were farm kids, we had never heard of suntan lotion."

After a heat stroke while in the fields during graduate school, Heer largely put on sunscreen or wore long sleeves while working as the head agronomist at Kansas State's South-Central Kansas Research Field, a job he had for nearly 30 years.

His precautions, however, came too late in life. The early years of sun exposure and burns already had caused harm to Heer's skin.

"My forearms are affected the worst," he said. "When you operate a piece of equipment, those parts of your arms are always out there and really catching the sun."

The CDC said burns in childhood -- like the ones that Heer experienced -- are one of the biggest skin cancer risk factors.

Melanoma is curable if catch in the early stages. And Marshall said that recently a couple of chemotherapy agents have been developed that prolong survival for advanced cases of melanoma, "which is a big start in the right direction."