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Utah has highest melanoma rates in the country

"I was really scared. I thought I was going to die," said 12 year-old Emma Cutler.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) - Utah now has the highest melanoma rate in the country, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Salt Lake County Health Department officials want parents to know is that everyone is at risk for skin cancer, especially kids in Utah.

Emma Cutler is twelve years old.  One day, she and her mom noticed what looked like a new mole on her arm.  It did not hurt, so they forgot about it for awhile.

"Weeks would go by, and I was like, ‘Emma, was this a mole?  Did you pick at it? Or scratch at it?’  Because it was always there, but it was changing," explained Jen Cutler, Emma’s mother.

Cutler says it was “mother’s intuition.” One night, she had a dream about the mole.  They decided to get it checked, and it turned out, Emma had stage 1B melanoma.

"I was really scared.  I thought I was going to die," she said.

"I was shocked because out of our entire family, our skin seems to burn. Emma's never does.  She's our tan little monkey, so I'm like, ‘how does this happen?’" said Cutler.

Salt Lake County Health Department officials say they have a few ideas. 

"Anywhere in Utah, we live at a higher altitude, so we are closer to the sun.  We're great outdoor enthusiasts, so we spend a lot of time outdoors," explained Terri Sory, Chronic Disease Project Manager for the Salt Lake County Health Department. 

Experts say while fair-skinned people are more susceptable to skin cancer, sometimes it comes down to how one single cell happens to mutate. 

"Of course, we were relieved to hear it does happen, regardless of what you do as a parent," said Zach Cutler, Emma's father. 

Skin cancer is a topic that hits home for another young girl.  She is a senior at Alta High, who also serves as Miss Draper. She and Emma have teamed up to teach elementary kids what to look for. 

"We have 'A' for asymmetrical... if it's even on both sides.  'B' is for border... if it has a discolored border, or if it's jagged. 'C' is for color.  A lot of times, it can be red, white, or blue, but most commonly, it's a dark brown or a black," explained Kelsey Blaser.

Health Department officials say you can never be too safe.

"It can pop up between your toes, or your back... behind your ear," explained Sori.  "That's why it's so important to do full body scans."

Another thing to keep in mind is that sunburns can happen through windows.  Experts say if you are taking any road trips, wear sunblock in the car.  

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