SkinCancerNet Article
Athletes Face Tough Opponent: Skin Cancer

Training and playing in the mid-day sun puts athletes at risk for skin cancer, a potentially life-threatening condition that affects 1 in 5 Americans. “Outdoor athletes face double jeopardy because sweating exacerbates their risk,” warns dermatologist Brian B. Adams, MD, MPH. “Perspiration on the skin lowers what's called the minimal erythema dose, the lowest ultraviolet (UV) light exposure needed to turn the skin barely pink.”

"You've already set yourself up for trouble if you’re not using sunscreen when outdoors participating in sports," says Dr. Adams. "When you perspire, you are even more susceptible to a burn, and with continued exposure, to wrinkles, age spots, and maybe even skin cancer.”

One Runner’s Story
Skin cancer has left its mark on runner Deena Kastor, one of America's top distance runners and a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist in the marathon. "I have 25 external stitches for basal cell carcinoma and early stages of melanoma," says Kastor. “I also have six internal stitches to tie off blood vessels the doctor cut through because the cancer runs deep."

Deena Kastor encourages the public to take the necessary steps to prevent skin cancer. “I can only emphasize that it is never one thing that causes skin cancer,” states Kastor. “Maintaining healthy skin is a combination of using sunscreen, wearing clothing and hats that cover you in the sun, limiting exposure to the mid-day sun, eating foods high in antioxidants, and visiting the dermatologist regularly.”

Marathon Runners Seem to Have Increased Risk of Skin Cancer
Kastor is not the only distance runner battling skin cancer. A study was conducted in Austria after a melanoma referral center found that several patients were marathon runners. To find out if distance running increases the risk of developing melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer, 210 marathon runners and 210 healthy non-runners were studied. When comparing the runners with the non-runners, researchers found that the runners had more atypical moles, age spots, and other lesions that increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
The reason seems to be the significant exposure during training and competition to ultraviolet (UV) rays emitted by the sun. The researchers also believe that endurance exercise such as distance running suppresses the immune system. A suppressed immune system increases the risk of developing skin cancer.

These findings led researchers to conclude that the marathon runners had an increased risk for developing melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers. The researchers recommend that marathon runners reduce their exposure to UV rays by training and competing when sun exposure is low, wearing protective clothing, and regularly applying a water-resistant sunscreen. Only 56.2% of the runners in this study reported that they regularly use sunscreen.

What can an outdoor athlete do?
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends seeking shade from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., which according to Dr. Adams is, "exactly the time when most teams are outside practicing, from soccer players to long-distance runners to tennis players. These athletes are getting an enormous amount of exposure to UV light, and it’s important that they follow some sun-safety precautions, including wearing sunscreen and protective clothes.”

For more information about how athletes can help protect themselves from the sun, visit Be Sun Smart®: Protect Yourself from the Sun.

Ambros-Rudolph CM et al. “Malignant Melanoma in Marathon Runners.” Archives of Dermatology. 2006 November;142(11):1471-1474.

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Page last updated 7/9/07

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