The effort and focus of these athletes is to be commended, yet they may not be aware of the additional risk they are creating.
US Research and a Franco-German study a decade ago helped to highlight the damage people can cause to their skin in outdoor sports. Further research and a presentation at The Physiological Society in 2019 took their findings further.
Athletes and sports people, from walkers, to runners, tennis players to triathletes and many more are at risk. Professional and dedicated participants have been found to exceed normal UV exposure by up to 700%.
The events they take part in are not the whole story, even though they are often in sunny climes. Far more exposure comes during training and respite periods.
Few outdoor sports are exempt, mountaineers, skiers, or distance runners encounter higher UV radiation at altitude, which increases again due to reflection from snow, or ice. Sweating is a common factor in sport, which heightens sensitivity to UV rays.
The Known Risks
There can be moderate differences across individuals and activities. Swimmers get more basal cell carcinomas, alpine sports enthusiasts more squamous cell carcinomas, most sports see incidences of malignant melanoma.
Higher innate risk factors can matter, from skin and hair tone, to the number of moles you have, to unavoidable genetic traits.
These differences are however marginal and we know that all three main types of skin cancer are factors for most outdoor activities. They can range from being a serious nuisance, to potentially fatal.
Many disciplines involve significant exercise levels, which can induce immunosuppression, alongside the sun exposure. Whilst physical activity can help to reduce most cancers, skin cancer is an exception.
Lack of knowledge is a further risk, with only 25% of professional athletes stating they regularly use sunscreen. The entirely incorrect belief that already having a tan protects you is also quite common.
Clearly action needs to be taken to protect individuals but we shouldn’t put all the responsibility on sports participants.
A Shared Task
Governing bodies, clubs and training staff all have a duty of care. That has improved in certain ways over the years but a key aspect is lacking.
Ensuring their charges wear water resistant sunscreen and protective clothing should be standard, as should raising awareness of the problem. Times of day chosen for training can be varied, alternative venues considered.
Myths can be dispelled, skin cancer on dark skin is perfectly possible and can be more of an issue. Fit athletes are not at reduced risk, of the outdoor variety, they are amongst the highest risk groups and need protection.
People are responsible for their own bodies and sports participants must play their part, yet others can assist. An annual skin check with a skin cancer specialist should be part of valuing those you wish to perform.
This isn’t a doubtful situation, multiple studies show a heightened risk. Whilst skin cancer treatment has evolved, participants and those around them should do all they can to make this a non requirement.
Our team will be happy to advise, although wherever you are located, take the time to find professional support for dedicated people.