Outdoor Sports and Its Looming Risk for Skin Cancer

People have long known that prolonged sun exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer. This is due to the ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight. Although many already know of these risks, people are still determined to perform outdoor activities. While moderate exposure is fine, this is concerning for athletes. Rigorous training requires most athletes to train outdoors, rain or shine. Their commitment to their sport demands them to stay outside more than the average professional. In this light, we will explore how these athletes try to alleviate the risks of skin cancer. In learning their sun protection practices, we might find some habits that we ourselves would be able to use in our everyday lives.  

Outdoors and Skin Cancer

According to the Surveillance Epidemiology, and End Results Program, skin cancer will be among the top 10 most prevalent cancers in the United States in 2022. One major factor in its prevalence is because of its most well-known risks from sunlight exposure. Depending on the sensitivity of the individual’s skin, ultraviolet exposure from the sun can lead to cancer. Specifically, it can increase the risk of developing skin basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. 

Ultraviolet exposure varies based on the lifestyle of the individual. For children who we expect to develop their bodies through play, we can expect our schools to utilize outdoor activities. This is why public schools do not allow negligence in their knowledge of skin cancer and how to prevent them. 

In a survey study affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers tested the knowledge and application of skin cancer prevention guidelines from the Miami-Dade County public schools. Of these institutions, 51 schools participated, and 78% of principals and teachers knew about the risk of excessive heat exposure on children. Additionally, 70% of them apply schedules that avoid peak sun hours for outdoor activities. 

Skin Cancer and Athletes

Aside from children, people who develop through outdoor activities are athletes. These include athletes from different sports, such as swimming, running, and even winter sports, such as skiing. There are various ways these athletes deal with sun exposure, and several factors come into play.

Intuitively, when one thinks of a sport usually exposed to sunlight, one would imagine endurance summer sports such as long-distance running. This is simply because these can require hours to finish, and they typically carry out these activities under the sun. Aside from this, there are actually more factors that can be a risk factor for skin cancer.

According to a 2008 article from Clinics in Dermatology, intense sweating can also contribute to ultraviolet-related skin damage. This happens as sweat increases the photosensitivity of the individual’s skin, risking sunburn. Friction from clothing can also disrupt the photosensitivity of the skin.

The same article also suggests that even snow and ice-covered surfaces affect the risk of cancer. We often associate winter sports, such as skiing with cold weather. This weather can even decrease our tendency to sweat. However, when the sun rises during these seasons, it can elevate ultraviolet exposure through surface reflections from the snow or ice. 

Athletes who participate in water-based sports are also vulnerable to skin cancer risks. The upper body of these athletes is often defenseless against sun exposure, especially when the smallest of cloth can cause drag against water. 

Finally, another factor that can burden athletes is immunosuppression triggered through exercise. Along with sun exposure, this can increase the risk for nonmelanoma skin cancer and cutaneous melanoma. 

Common Sports Associated with Skin Cancer

To discuss the specific sports participated by these athletes, we will look into them one by one. We will also discuss the most prevalent skin cancers from each sport. Through this, we may see whether the difference between each factor and environment can affect the type of skin cancer afflicting the athlete. 

Summer endurance sports are typically performed during the peak of the heat. The athletes participating may suffer from cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma and cutaneous melanoma, specifically melanocytic nevi and solar lentigines. These sports include cycling, running, and triathlon. Aside from these endurance sports, baseball players may also be vulnerable to cancer risks. 

On the other hand, winter sports athletes are vulnerable to sunburns, causing melanoma and some nonmelanoma skin cancers. These sports include skiing, snowboarding, and mountaineering. A study conducted in New Zealand showed that 68% of snowboarders were not aware of the concept of sun protection during winter. This led to 48% of the snowboarders and skiers experiencing sunburn after the activity. 

As for water-based sports, the three most common skin cancers were basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. These sports include swimming, surfing, boating, and sailing. The athlete’s head and the upper body are the most prevalent locations of the disease. 

Sports and Skin Care

We can see from all these risk factors that prolonged sun exposure is not a trivial matter. Instead, we should learn to take precautions by reading and understanding the threat of outdoor sports without protection. This should be the case even if we are not athletes who spend the day outside all day. It does not hurt to be cautious.

The precautions we will discuss are the accumulation of suggestions and recommendations from all the studies mentioned above:

  • Avoid peak sun hours: we should schedule our outdoor activities preferably after peak sun hours. If you cannot avoid peak sun hours, seek shade when you feel it’s too hot.
  • Apply water-resistant sunscreen: even if you are not playing water-based sports, water-resistant sunscreen can be effective for people with excessive sweating.
  • Wear appropriate outwear: these should include sunglasses, a hat, and long-sleeved clothing.
  • Use neoprene clothing: this is especially useful for swimmers as it is good against ultraviolet light exposure.
  • Regularly consult your dermatologist: if you consistently engage in outdoor activities, regular check-ups can help detect largely-preventable diseases such as skin cancer.

These tips can help anyone from developing skin tumors. Additionally,  early diagnosis and treatment can help alleviate the consequences of the disease. Even if the sun is always around and it might feel unnecessary to protect yourself against it, knowledge from this should tell you that a simple shade against sunlight might help.

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