Dr. Adams says the risks are so high that sunscreen use should be compulsory in outdoor sports.
He applauds one rowing coach who benches
any crew member who appears for practice sunburned. That, he believes,
gets the message across.
According to the American Cancer Society,
most of the more than 1 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer
diagnosed yearly in the United States are sun related. Melanoma, the
most serious type, will account for about 59,600 cases of skin cancer
in 2005 and about 7,800 of the 10,600 deaths due to skin cancer each
Unfortunately, says Dr. Adams, a study he
did recently with medical student Erica Hamant revealed that most young
athletes ignore the danger.
Reported in the August edition of the
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, the study showed that
85 percent of 186 NCAA soccer players and cross-country runners at four
Cincinnati-area colleges used no sunscreen during the previous seven
practice days. Ninety-four percent admitted they used sunscreen on
fewer than three days during the previous week.
"The NCAA has medical guidelines for
wrestlers, football players and others," says Dr. Adams, "but using
sunscreen in outdoor athletics, which is very, very important, just
isn't part of the culture.
"The consequences of not using sunscreen
are well documented and all point to the fact every locker room should
have sunscreen right up there next to the Gatorade."
What is part of the culture, Dr. Adams laments, is "the tan."
Although a tan wasn't "hip" in earlier
times, he says, "unfortunately today if you have a little color you're
perceived as being healthy or better looking.
"The problem is that a tan is a bad
response. It's the body's last attempt to protect itself against
ultraviolet (UV) light damage and the subsequent mutations that UV rays
induce in the skin cells. It's your skin's way of saying please stop
Forty-six percent of 139 athletes who
gave reasons for not using sunscreen blamed lack of availability, and
33 percent thought they didn't need it because of various
misconceptions. Others said they didn't consider the weather hot enough
However, says Dr. Adams, only 1 percent
of the athletes said they didn't use sunscreen because it hurt their
eyes, commonly thought to be the reason they ignore it.
The American Academy of Dermatology
recommends avoiding sun exposure from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., "exactly the
times when most teams are out practicing, whether they're soccer
players, long-distance runners or tennis players," Dr. Adams points
out. "They're getting an enormous amount exposure to UV light."
Outdoor athletes are also in double
jeopardy, because sweating exacerbates their risk, Dr. Adams says.
Perspiration on the skin lowers what's called the minimal erythema
dose, the lowest UV exposure needed to turn the skin barely pink.
"You've already set yourself up for
trouble by not using sunscreen," Dr. Adams says, "and now by sweating
you're making it worse. Think about that the next time you see all
those men jogging around town without their shirts on!"
Skiers have it even worse, Dr. Adams
says. Not only is 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. prime time for lift tickets, but UV
light on the high slopes isn't "filtered" by the pollution found in the
atmosphere at sea level, and it's even intensified by the white snow.
Studies have shown that sun exposure at
noon in Vail, Colo., equals that at the same hour on a Florida beach,
says Dr. Adams. "Because it's cold on ski slopes, people who typically
have their face and hands exposed tend not to wear sunscreen. Whereas
on the beach they feel hot and are more aware, and they're influenced
by the fact that everyone around them is using sunscreen."
The solution, Dr. Adams suggests, is
relatively simple and could cost organizations like the NCAA--with its
250,000 outdoor athletes--very little or even nothing.
"All the NCCA and the other conferences,
colleges and clubs need to do," he says, "is install a huge container
of sunscreen in the locker room, where it's impossible to avoid.
Manufacturers would probably donate product for the promotional value."
Infrastructure is already in place
through the various sports organizations for educating outdoor athletes
about the risk, Dr. Adams says. Preventive programs could easily be
integrated into daily practice and competition regimes.
And enforcing a sunscreen rule should be a snap.
"Young athletes are at the right age to
learn good habits that they can take into adulthood," he says, "and
most kids heed their coach more than they do their parents."