Skin cancer: The not-so-hidden danger on the course

It’s not the water hazard on the back side, or that bunker in front of No. 18 that’s the biggest opponent on the course. It’s the sun. Who cares if you get a little sunburn? How bad can it be? The reality of this seemingly little discomfort is far worse than the pain involved in healing from a sunburn. Skin cancer in all of its forms can be disfiguring and fatal if left untreated. The problem most golfers have in protecting themselves is with sunscreen and the slippery residue left on their hands after applying. If the residue gets on your grips, they can be harder to hold on to than an oil-soaked baby seal. With this in mind, there are many golfers who would rather not apply it or only before they begin their rounds, but with rounds lasting four to five hours, sunscreen just doesn’t protect that long. Some of you out there have less of a chance of acquiring skin cancer than others. There are 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer diagnosed and 2.2 million treated in the United States each year. The highest at risk for skin cancers are blonde, fair-skinned individuals, but that doesn’t mean the winners in the perfect tan club aren’t at risk for developing skin cancer. It can affect anyone, and the more time spent in the sun increases your risks for developing one or another form of skin cancer.

There are three different forms of skin cancer, and the mildest and most common form is Basal Cell Carcinoma. Basal Cell generally starts as an irritation in the skin. Like with all skin cancers, the sore will not heal, it will just slowly grow. In my case, it looked like a small irritated indentation in the skin that felt scratchy for lack of a better adjective and never really healed. Of the three forms, Basal generally isn’t life threatening, but if left untreated it can be disfiguring.

The second is Squamous Cell Carcinoma, which generally is a dull red, rough, scaly raised skin lesion. This lesions usually appear on head, neck, ears, lips or back of hands and forearms. Squamous Cell is more invasive and can be a much faster grower than Basal Cell. What makes Squamous more dangers than Basal Cell is the rate of growth and it has a tendency metastasize. Once this happens, your future is at risk. Just five sunburns doubles your chances of developing Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Melanoma’s characteristics are brown or black skin lesion with irregularities in symmetry, border and coloration. Melanoma can develop in an existing mole or on previously normal skin. Melanoma has a high fatality rate because of its aggressiveness or willingness to metastasize. Once this happens, Melanoma has a fondness for bone, lung and brain tissue.

The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates 42 percent of population gets at least one sunburn a year, and having only five sunburns doubles your chances of getting melanoma. By the time we reach 50, that’s a substantial increase in risk with just one burn a year, and I’d be willing to gamble most of us who enjoy this great game risk more than just five sunburns a year. So what can we do to try to avoid developing any of these skin cancers? This area for us golfers is a tough spot, when the advice is stay out of the sun during peak hours, which in North America is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those hours work out OK for most during the week, but during the weekend only so many people can fit into the morning tee times. The most important precaution we can use from the sun is sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher applied every two hours. The third recommendation by the Mayo Foundation is to regularly check your skin and keep your doctor informed of any changes you see. I know we already talked about the oil-covered baby seal, but there are ways to use sunscreen and not have it affect your equipment this way. First off, apply a good amount of sunscreen at home or in the locker room then thoroughly wash and dry your hands before you head out to the course or range. On the course, the spray sunscreens work great and allows you to apply it without risking getting it on the palms of your hands, which keeps it off the grips. The one thing that has to be kept in mind when using spray sunscreen is that most will stain your clothes. Don’t ask me why lotion style sunscreen doesn’t stain and spray does. I guess it just works out that way, so be careful as you spray. One tip I have is to carry a small hand towel in your bag and apply the sunscreen to it, then spread it on your skin with the towel. This once again keeps it off your hands. With a little due diligence, we as golfers can lower our risks for developing any of these skin cancers. I must add that this may seem like somewhat of a silly thing especially if you are below the age of 30, but if you are getting burnt there will likely be a price to pay for it down the road. I know, I’ve had it removed twice already.

Source: Golf WRX

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