WEST JORDAN — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced Wednesday during a groundbreaking ceremony for a new school that he has been undergoing treatment for skin cancer.
He said doctors believe they got it all.
"I think that's what happened here," he said. "I'm fine."
The cancer was discovered a month ago, prompting surgery. This week, Herbert was sporting a bandage under his right eye because of an infection in the wound that set back his healing a couple of weeks.
The governor's announcement came the same day an analysis was released showing Utah is the second worst state in the nation when it comes to levels of concern over the risk of getting skin cancer.
Herbert said he has had skin cancer twice before, once on his head and another time on his chest, so he makes regular visits to a dermatologist.
Describing it as "youthful inexperience," Herbert said people of his generation used suntan lotion, but sunscreen not so much.
"We've learned over time that (suntanning) is probably not a good idea," he said.
Herbert said he has squamous cell carcinoma, which is the second most common form of skin cancer. It's usually found on areas of the body damaged by ultraviolet rays from the sun or tanning beds and is slow-growing.
After a biopsy confirmed the cancer, Herbert underwent Mohs surgery, which enabled his surgeon to trace out the extent of the tumor and remove only diseased tissue, he said. This procedure saves as much normal, healthy tissue as possible, which leads to faster recovery times and less scarring.
Herbert said he had sutures under the wound and on top of the wound. The sutures within the wound "were starting to be pushed out by my body for whatever reason. They're supposed to dissolve but it takes awhile and at least the lower part created a little bit of infection," he said.
Herbert returned to the surgeon Tuesday to address the infection and will have a second procedure Thursday.
"Where it should be kind of being close to being healed, they had to do some things there. I've probably got another couple of weeks of wearing the bandage now," he said.
Herbert mentioned cancer treatment as an example of being reactive, as he advised middle school students at Wednesday's groundbreaking. Being proactive would have been using sunscreen in his youth
"See this little thing here. See this bandage? … That's being reactive. I had some cancer taken out here. Proactive would have been when I was your age wearing sunscreen, so I would advise you all to wear sunscreen.
"Be smarter than some of us old people and you won't have to wear bandages on your face when they cut out the cancer," Herbert told the students.
The surgical procedures caused the cancellation of multiple meetings this week, forcing the ultra-active governor to rest and recover before he flies out Sunday night for a round of meetings in Washington, D.C., next week.
The analysis that shows Utah is the second worst state in the nation when it comes to levels of concern over the risk of getting skin cancer was performed by Advanceddermatology.com, and is based on Google search trends related to skin cancer prevention such as "best UV protection," "skin cancer risk" and "how to prevent skin cancer."
The company used the seven search terms over 12 months and weighed it against each state's individual level of risk — and Utah came in at "dangerously unconcerned," even though the state's risk is "very high" due to its elevation and ethnic makeup.
Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. The type Herbert has is "non-melanoma" and rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
Melanoma is the most rare form of skin cancer, but the most deadly.
Since 2000, Utah has consistently ranked as the highest state nationally in terms of melanoma death and incidence, according to the Utah Public Health Data Resource.
It has held that position due to a variety of factors. The Advanceddermatology.com report said Utah had 40.5 incidences of melanoma per 100,000 people in 2015, the latest year for which numbers are available.
The data resource center advises that even people who tan well are at risk of getting melanoma, and exposure to artificial sources of ultraviolet radiation before age 30 greatly increases the risk of getting that particular kind of skin cancer.
Dr. Tawnya Bowles, a surgical oncologist with Intermountain Healthcare specializing in skin cancer, said the high melanoma rates in Utah stem from three factors: fair skin, the high elevation and being outdoors.
"Utahns love to be outdoors (and are exposed to) the reflections of the rays off the snow or off the lakes," she said. "People are not always aware of that."
People should be cognizant of changing conditions with their skin that Bowles described as the "ugly duckling sign" of something that doesn't belong in order to be proactive with their health care.