Risk of Skin Cancer
There’s a lot of evidence that regular exercise reduces the risk of the usual killers in western society — heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and others. While most of us don’t exercise for this reason it’s still a nice “added feature.”
But there is still one killer that serious recreational athletes are at high risk for contracting – skin cancer. Several hours a week outdoors in the sun makes us more susceptible to developing a skin cancer or melanoma than the average couch spud.
Other factors that make skin cancer likely for those who exercise a lot are fair skin, red or blond hair, older athletes, and a history of sunburns, especially as a child. Also if you freckle after a short exposure to the sun or sunburn easily you are at greater risk.
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to avoid long exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. This means doing your workouts before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are most intense. Workout clothing should also be chosen for its sun-protective features. A tightly woven, fabric that covers the back, shoulders, and neck is best. It’s also a good idea to wear a broad-brimmed hat. If possible, exercise in a place where you can avoid sun exposure altogether, such as a gym.
In medical circles there is still some debate about whether sunscreen is effective at preventing skin cancer. Some believe it actually contributes to the incidence of this disease by making users complacent about exposure to the sun. If you use sunscreen choose a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, but still limit your sun exposure.
Fortunately, skin cancer responds well to treatment if caught early enough. Using mirrors, check your body monthly looking for changes in mole or skin lesions such as the following:
• Asymmetry. One half of the mole or lesion does not match the other half.
• Border. The edges are ragged, notched, or blurred.
• Color. The mole or lesion’s color is not uniform.
• Diameter. The diameter of the mole or lesion is greater than the size of a pencil eraser.
While melanoma is less common than the other types, it has greater potential for spreading throughout the body.
If you’re unsure whether your skin spot has any of these characteristics it’s a good idea to see your doctor to have it checked. In the mean time, avoid excessive sun exposure.