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Tennis Fans: Wear Sunscreen to Protect Skin

While several parts of the country are thawing from winter and welcoming springtime weather, temperatures in South Florida are often heating up this time of year. And as thousands of tennis fans soak up bright sunshine and match play at the Miami Open [1] this week, it’s likely many of them are getting too much sun.

Their pink or red skin that results is a signal to think about the dangers of too much sun exposure. Intense or accumulative exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from natural sunshine or tanning beds can lead to skin damage and cause skin cancer. Several professional tennis players in the years following their careers have made their battles with skin cancer public, including Australian tennis great John Newcombe and Spain’s Felix Mantilla.

They are among the 2-3 million people diagnosed with skin cancer globally each year, many with basal cell lesions emerging on their face due to years of sun exposure. A form of non-melanoma skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma affects the cells found in the outer layer of the skin, known as the epidermis. It is the most frequently occurring type of cancer, with nearly 3 million new cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year, reports the Skin Cancer Foundation. While basal cell cancer is rarely fatal, it can be very disfiguring if left untreated.

Skin cancer in tennis players doesn’t always occur later in life. Just before last year’s US Open, the then 24-year old tennis pro Madison Brengle learned a spot on her leg was cancerous. She later had it removed, and the healing process meant five weeks staying off her leg.

Squamous cell cancer accounts for about 20 percent of skin cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. The disease affects more than one in five Americans in a lifetime. For people who play tennis for a living, sun exposure can be considered an occupational hazard, classified as such due to being out in the sun up to eight hours a day.

Despite these high-profile cases and increased awareness about the dangers of sun exposure, treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers increased by nearly 77 percent between 1992 and 2006, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Skin Cancer Statistics

The Skin Cancer Foundation shares additional statistics, including:

• Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.
• Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer; an estimated 2.8 million are diagnosed annually in the U.S. Basal skin cancers are rarely fatal, but can be highly disfiguring if allowed to grow.
• The incidence of squamous cell carcinoma has been on the rise with increases up to 200 percent over the past three decades in the U.S.
• One person dies of melanoma – the deadliest form of cancer – every hour in the U.S.
• Melanoma is the only one of the seven most common types of cancer that has increased – 2 percent a year – between 2000 and 2009.
• A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.

As the time of year when the sun is strongest approaches, medical professionals heed caution to patients about protecting skin against the harmful effects of the sun.

Sunscreen Guidelines

Healthcare experts agree the best defense is to use broad spectrum sunscreen. Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 40 percent and the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent, according to researchers at Northwestern University. A broad spectrum label on a sunscreen indicates the product — when used properly — will protect you from the effects of ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, says Alysa Herman, M.D., [2] a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon affiliated with Baptist Health’s South Miami, Baptist and Doctors Hospitals.

UVA rays are linked to premature aging and UVB rays are associated with sunburns — and exposure to both is linked to a higher risk of developing skin cancer. Authors of the Northwestern University study [3] add, “There is an ongoing need for physicians to educate their patients about the need for protection against both UV-A and UV-B radiation in preventing skin cancer and sunburns.”

Sunscreen Buying Tips

To make it easier to shop for the best sun protection, the American Academy of Dermatologists offers three quick tips:

• Look for labels that advertise “broad-spectrum protection.”
• Select products that offer a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
• Choose “water-resistant” sunscreens that advertise coverage between 40-80 minutes—after which you should reapply the product.