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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.