According to the results of a study published in the Archives of Dermatology, marathon runners are more likely than the general population to have atypical moles, sun-induced skin damage, and skin changes suggestive of nonmelanoma skin cancer. Each of these changes indicates an increased risk of melanoma.
Melanoma is a type of cancer that originates in cells of the skin. Melanoma is considered very deadly once it has spread past the site of origin. However, if melanoma is caught and treated prior to spread, cure rates are high. Typically, the treatment for melanoma that has not spread is surgical removal of the cancer and a surrounding area of healthy tissue.
Individuals with fair skin, freckles, a strong family history of melanoma and those who have spent a lot of time unprotected in the sun are advised to be screened regularly for melanoma by a dermatologist so that it may be caught and treated as early as possible.
Marathon runners may be at increased risk of developing melanoma because of extensive sun exposure during training and competition, and also because of immune suppression resulting from prolonged and rigorous physical activity.
To explore the frequency of risk factors for melanoma among marathon runners, researchers in Austria conducted a study among 210 marathon runners. The frequency of risk factors in the runners was compared to the frequency of risk factors among 210 members of the general population.
- Marathon runners were less likely than the general population to have sun-sensitive skin or common types of moles.
- Marathon runners were more likely than the general population to have atypical moles, evidence of sun damage to the skin, and skin changes suggestive of nonmelanoma skin cancer. The frequency of these abnormal skin changes increased with the amount of time the runner spent training.
- Most runners wore shorts and short-sleeved or sleeveless shirts while running.
- Only 56% of runners reported regular use of sunscreen.
- Although no melanomas were detected, 24 of the marathon runners and 14 members of the comparison group were referred to dermatologists for surgical treatment of skin changes suggestive of nonmelanoma skin cancer.
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The study suggests that marathon runners are more likely than the general population to have skin changes that indicate an increased risk of melanoma. The researchers recommend that marathon runners choose training and competition schedules that minimize sun exposure; wear clothing that protects their skin from the sun; and use water-resistant sunscreens.
Reference: Ambros-Rudolph CM, Hofmann-Wellenhof R, Richtig E, et al. Malignant melanoma in marathon runners. Archives of Dermatology 2006;142:1471-1474.
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