Thousands of young athletes at risk of skin cancer

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According to a University of Cincinnati (UC) dermatologist, thousands of young athletes are at high risk of developing skin cancer.

Brian Adams, MD, a sports medicine specialist at UC and a part-time high school coach, says the risks are so high that sunscreen use should be compulsory in outdoor sports.

Dr. Adams says he applauds one rowing coach who benches any crew member who appears for practice sunburned, and he believes, that may be the only way to get the message across.

According to the American Cancer Society, of the more than 1 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer diagnosed yearly in the United States, most are sun related.

They estimate that Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, will account for about 59,600 cases of skin cancer in 2005 and about 7,800 of the 10,600 deaths due to skin cancer each year.

But according to Dr. Adams, in a recent study he did with medical student Erica Hamant, it was revealed that most young athletes ignore the danger.

The study of four Cincinnati-area colleges, found that 85 percent of 186 NCAA soccer players and cross-country runners, had used no sunscreen during the previous seven practice days, while 94 percent admitted they had only used sunscreen on less than three days during the previous week.

Dr. Adams says that though the NCAA has medical guidelines for wrestlers, football players and others, using sunscreen in outdoor athletics, which is very, very important, just isn't part of the culture.

He says that although a tan was not fashionable in earlier times, unfortunately today if you have a little color you're perceived as being healthy or better looking.

Adams says that a tan is in fact a bad response, as it is the body's last attempt to protect itself against ultraviolet (UV) light damage and the subsequent mutations that UV rays induce in the skin cells.

The study found that 46 percent of 139 athletes, who gave reasons for not using sunscreen, blamed lack of availability, and 33 percent thought they didn't need it for various misconceived ideas.

While others said they didn't consider the weather hot enough for sunburn.

Dr. Adams says that despite it being commonly thought the reason they ignore it is because it hurts their eyes, in fact only 1 percent of the athletes gave that excuse.

Dr. Adams points out that the American Academy of Dermatology web site recommends avoiding sun exposure from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., which is when most teams are out practicing, be they soccer players, long-distance runners, or tennis players, and getting an enormous amount of exposure to UV light.

Dr. Adams also says that outdoor athletes are also in double jeopardy, because sweating exacerbates their risk, as perspiration on the skin lowers what's called the minimal erythema dose, the lowest UV exposure needed to turn the skin barely pink.

Skiers are apparently in an even worse situation as UV light on the high slopes isn't "filtered" by the pollution found in the atmosphere at sea level, and is intensified by the white snow.

It appears that sun exposure at noon in Vail equals that at the same hour on a Florida beach.

The solution, Dr. Adams suggests, is relatively simple and could cost organizations such as the NCAA, with its 250,000 outdoor athletes,very little.

Installing a huge container of sunscreen in the locker room, where it's impossible to avoid, is all organizations have to do, says Adams, and many manufacturers would probably donate the products for the promotional value.

As the infrastructure is already in place through the various sports organizations, for educating outdoor athletes about the risks, preventive programs could easily be integrated into daily practice and competition regimes, says Dr. Adams.

As most kids heed their coach more than they do their parents, he says that young athletes are at the right age to learn good habits that they can take into adulthood.

The study is published in the August edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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