July 18th, 2011 11:00 EST
8 Tips How to Reduce Risk to Melanoma Skin Cancer for Runners
If you love running and want to enjoy it well into your senior years protect yourself from the sun. That`s the advice for America`s 36 million runners from a leading plastic and reconstructive surgeon who has treated thousands of patients over the course of his 15-year career for skin cancer and melanoma.
As the sun intensifies in its strength throughout the summer, runners need to take precautions against the sun`s harmful rays, says Dr. Sam Economou, who leads Plastic Surgery Consultants, Ltd. (www.plasticsurgeryconsultants.net), a Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery practice located in Edina, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis.
The reason is simple. Skin cancer is on the rise. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, more than two million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year. In addition, about 68,000 cases of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, are diagnosed yearly.
While more people are detecting cancer earlier, increasing their chances of survival, cancer rates are actually rising, especially among young people who use tanning booths and those who do not use sunblock when working and playing outside.
Running is about spending time outdoors. And more often than not, most runners enjoy running when the weather is nice and sunny. That puts many of America`s 36 million runners at risk for skin cancer, says Dr. Economou. The more time you spend outdoors running, the greater risk of exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation and sunburns.
Runners have several strikes against them when it comes to skin cancer, notes Dr. Economou. Because many runners run near their homes and often times not more than an hour, they think they`re not at risk if they don`t put on sunblock. According to a Runner`s World poll, upwards of 50 to 60 percent of people who run regularly never use sunblock. The problem is that runners tend to expose more skin than other athletes because of the clothes they wear, and because many wear t-shirts that do little to block the sun`s rays. In addition, many runners may not realize that water, sand, asphalt streets and snow reflect dangerous UV rays.
To help runners lower their risk of developing skin cancer, Dr. Economou offers these tips:
Apply sunblock. Always apply sunblock lotion at least 30 minutes before going out into the sun, before you start to perspire, to allow the sunblock to be absorbed into your skin. If you think you may remove some running clothes during your run, consider applying sunblock before you get into your running clothes. Even if you`re running at 6 a.m., apply sunblock and reapply it after every two hours you`re outside. Use a sunblock with a SPF rating of at least 30 an arms, legs, face and neck and a water-resistant SPF of 50+ on your nose and the top of your ears. Make sure your sunblock is effective against both UVA and UVB rays.
Wear a hat. The most susceptible place on your body for skin cancer is your head -- the top of your head, your face, nose and ears. Believe Dr. Economou, reconstructive surgery on the nose and ears is challenging. Whether it`s sunny or cloudy out, at the very least, wear a cap with a front bill. Ideally wear a cap with both a front bill and a back bill to cover up the back of your neck. You can get skin cancer on your scalp even if you have a full head of hair. Even when you`re wearing a cap, make sure to put sunblock on your face, nose and especially, your ears, an area many forget.
Polarized UV-blocking sunglasses. Wear sunglasses to protect your retinas from harmful UV rays, as well as dust particles on a windy day. Sunglasses that wrap around your face offer the best protection. Polarized lenses help cut the glare (from nearby water, sand, asphalt and snow) to help you see better during your run. A really good pair of sunglasses is one piece of equipment that every runner should invest in. They`re just as important as buying a pair of high quality running shoes.
Wear protective clothing. If you have a high risk of history of skin cancer you should look into protective clothing. Even on the hottest days, wear lightweight long-sleeve shirts, caps, socks and shorts. Equip yourself with running shirts and pants that are specially made to block the sun and wick away moisture to keep you cool while out on the road or trail " apparel that offers a UPF rating of at least 30+, as recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation, to protect against harmful UVA/UVB rays. Remember, UV rays are present even on cloudy days.
Move your run time. Here`s another excuse for getting yourself out of bed at the crack of dawn. It may be more pleasant to wait until the day has warmed up and the sun is shining, but this when the sun is at its strongest, and cruelest, in terms of skin cancer. And don`t fool yourself by a cloudy or partly cloudy day. Harmful UVA and UVB rays still get through clouds.
Instead, shift your running time to early morning or dusk to avoid the affects of the sun. But don`t forget to wear highly visible clothing (screaming yellow, orange or lime green) to make sure you are seen by automobile drivers and cyclists.
Avoid sunburns. Repeated sunburns over time can cause significant damage to your skin. Severe sunburns as a child are a leading risk factor in developing skin cancer as an adult. Sunburns happen though, despite our best intentions. If you do get sunburned, treat the sunburned area with an aloe-based lotion, take cool showers, stay hydrated and if you`re experiencing headaches, take a pain reliever.
Stay hydrated. To maintain healthy skin, don`t forget to stay hydrated while running by drinking plenty of non-alcoholic beverages before and during a run. When your skin dries out or is not hydrated properly, it`s more susceptible to sunburn and long-term skin damage. Water remains the best method of hydration during exercise. Sports drinks add empty calories.
Conduct skin cancer self-examinations. If you have a fair complexion, multiple freckles and moles, and experienced severe sunburns as a child, you have some of the leading risk factors for skin cancer. Take this seriously especially if you spend a fair amount of time outside running. At least once a month, before you get into or just out of the shower, look at your skin. Look at moles and freckles to see if you notice any changes in their shape, size, color or asymmetry. Make an appointment once a year with your doctor or a dermatologist to look at your skin as part of an annual exam. Especially watch moles and freckles on high-risk areas of your body, the face, nose, ears, the back of your hands and your calves.