10 Things You Should Know about Melanoma, Skin Cancer, and Sun Exposure

by SwimSwam 6

November 20th, 2015 Lifestyle, News

As swimmers, we spend several hours a day training outside. What we may not realize is that we’re exposing ourselves to some major health risks just by being outside. Even if we are careful to wear our sunscreen every time we head out to practice, we aren’t completely protected. Here are some important things to know about exposure to the sun and skin cancer.

Thanks to Kendall Eagan for contributing this report.

10 Things to know about Melanoma, Skin Cancer, and Sun Exposure

  1. What is melanoma? Melanoma is a type of skin cancer.  It originates from the cells in your skin that make pigment.  If diagnosed and treated early, the cure rate is approximately 98%.  If found later, it can be fatal.
  2. Who gets melanoma? All ages, including children, can get melanoma.  It is the most common type of cancer in 25 to 29 year olds, and the second most common type in 15 to 29 year olds.  All skin types can be affected.
  3. Are indoor tanning beds safe? Indoor tanning beds are incredibly dangerous and significantly increase your risk of melanoma.  In addition to increasing your risk of deadly skin cancer, indoor tanning is associated with premature aging.
  4. Does melanoma only grow in moles? Melanomas can grow within an existing mole or in normal skin.  Melanomas can grow in areas not exposed to the sun!  When it occurs on the bottoms of the feet or in a nail, it can have a worse prognosis.
  5. Is a baseline tan healthy? Tan skin is not healthy skin.  It is your body’s response to ultraviolet injury.  Your body is making more pigment to try to protect the DNA in your cells. This DNA damage causes skin cancer. 
  6. If I wear sunscreen, am I completely protected from the sun? Not necessarily.  When sunscreen is tested for effectiveness, A LARGE VOLUME of sunscreen is used.  In general, people don’t put on nearly enough sunscreen to be effective.  To give you an idea, one ounce of sunscreen is equal to one total body application.  If you are applying enough sunscreen and reapplying appropriately, those 6 ounce bottles should be depleted You should reapply at least every 2 hours when you are in sun and more frequently if you are sweating and in the water.   Sunscreen does not block the ultraviolet light completely.  Even if you are wearing sunscreen appropriately, you are still being exposed to the sun.  Try to avoid sun exposure during the midday hours (10 am to 2 pm) and seek shade.  Sun protective clothing and wide brimmed hats can also protect you from ultraviolet light exposure.
  7. How do I perform a skin check? Look everywhere! Don’t forget in between your toes and the bottoms of your feet.  Use a mirror to help.  If you answer yes to any of the questions in the table (see below) or have concerns, you should see a dermatologist for a skin exam.
  8. Where can I find out more information about skin cancer and protecting my skin? The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) is a great resource. You can access additional information about skin cancer and how to perform a skin exam on the AAD website.  You can also find a list of board certified dermatologists in your area.  Board Certified means that the dermatologist has completed an approved dermatology residency and has also passed a certification exam.   https://www.aad.org/


ABCDEs of Melanoma
Asymmetry Is the mole or spot asymmetrical?
Borders Are the borders uneven or blurred?
Color Does the mole or spot have more than one color?
Diameter Is it bigger than the width of a pencil eraser?
Evolution Is it changing? Growing?
Other Concerning Features
Ugly Duckling Sign Do any moles or spots look out of place or not match your other moles?
Symptomatic Do any itch or bleed?


Photo courtesy of Adam Perry, MD

 Kendall Egan, MD is a board certified dermatologist in North Carolina. She swam competitively during childhood in San Diego, CA and in college at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Leave a Reply

Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Keira Barr
5 years ago

I am so pleased to see this post!I am also a dermatologist. A few years back had written a letter to the President of FINA regarding the importance of sun safety and skin cancer prevention for our swimmers, especially for youth teams. He was very receptive, however, on the local level I met resistance from some coaches who didn’t see sun exposure for our youth swimmers to be a problem. The conversation was cut short due to their outlook and it’s unfortunate because, it is a problem, for all swimmers who swim outdoors. The swimming community is at high risk for excessive sun exposure given the amount of time spent outdoors, the reflection of UV rays off the water as… Read more »

5 years ago

I had Melanoma twice in my early 30s and it was attributed to my years of swimming and also several summers of lifeguarding and I don’t think I used much sunscreen back then. I think the teams owe it to their swimmers to make available on deck a large bottle of SPF 50 and then encourage the kids/parents to apply it liberally.

Dave G.
5 years ago

This article deserves to be spread around. As a long time swimmer in Arizona and now an official as well, I have been in the sun for decades. I recently had a lip crack that would not heal and it turned out to be cancerous. Not melanoma but it was headed there. I now have a new lower lip courtesy of reconstruction. It takes remembering to use that sunscreen, to have it in your bag, to make sure that your kids use sunscreen but it is worth it in spades.

Enright Melanoma Foundation
5 years ago

Great article. Our nonprofit organization has created FREE, online sun safety education courses for ages 5 and over. These educational courses teach the learner about how to be safe in the sun. We encourage everyone to visit http://www.ApplyCoverEnjoy.org – take the free course, and help spread the word to raise sun safety awareness. Thank you.

5 years ago

Dear Sirs,

Why do you say in statement 3 that ‘indoor tanning beds are incredibly dangerous’? How do you know that and where do you have that knowledge from? To my knowledge this statement is absolutely not true and in fact nonsense. Modern tanning beds never radiate more UV (A and B) than on a normal sunny day at noon on the equator. Your statement implies that everybody living on these latitudes live ‘increasingly dangerous’! A tanning bed automatically shuts itself down after maximum of 15minutes – this is a regulation by law and the FDA – and so is in essence more save than going outdoors!

Two healthy general rules in live are:

From anything too much is not… Read more »

aspirin linked to lower-melanoma
8 months ago

Overall, women who took aspirin had a 21% lower risk of melanoma compared with women who didn’t. And taking it longer was associated with lower risk. For example, women who took aspirin for at least 5 years had a 30% lower risk of melanoma compared with women who didn’t take it