Monday Medical: Working out? Don’t forget sunscreen | SteamboatToday.com

Monday Medical: Working out? Don’t forget sunscreen

Susan Cunningham/For Steamboat Today

Monday Medical

Editors note: This is the second article in a five-part series on skin cancer.

Local athlete Katie Lindquist has won a World Championship 24-hour solo mountain bike race, done the Race Across America on a tandem road bike and competed at an elite level for Nordic skiing.

She has also dealt with skin cancer.

Seven years ago, two of Lindquist's friends noticed a strange mole behind her ear. A few weeks later, her husband said it looked odd. So, she went in for a skin check.

"It didn't dawn on me — melanoma," Lindquist said. "(I thought) I just had a funny mole."

Dr. Maryann Wall, who is board certified in otolaryngology, head and neck surgery and facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, biopsied Lindquist's mole and discovered it was melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer.

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Lindquist is not alone. A number of athletes have dealt with skin cancer, including football player Troy Aikman, professional golfer Brian Davis and Olympic distance runner Deena Kastor.

Cases of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, most of which are caused by exposure to ultraviolet, or UV radiation from the sun, are increasing worldwide.

Athletes can be at even greater risk. There's the constant training outdoors, the sweating and friction that makes sunblock less efficient and the competitions that often take place in the middle of the day, when UV rays are most intense.

In a place such as Steamboat, where the higher altitude means the atmosphere is less dense and offers less protection, exposure to the sun's rays is magnified.

"I've never watched a segment of the Iron Man and seen anybody reapply (sunscreen), and you know they're sweating buckets," Wall said.

Various studies have shown that some athletes — including marathon runners, surfers and mountain climbers — are at higher risk for skin cancers.

During one day on the Tour de Suisse, cyclists receive eight times more than the minimal dose of UV radiation required to cause sunburn. Skiers at 11,000 feet who don't wear sunscreen begin to develop a sunburn after only six minutes in the sun.

All that sun exposure isn't good for athletes: First, there's the damage to the skin from UV rays; second, the skin works to release heat if it's getting burned, which means more blood goes to the skin instead of muscles; and finally, UV exposure can suppress the immune system.

Athletes may have a healthy diet, get good sleep, put in hours of training and be religious about recovery — but if they aren't protecting themselves from the sun, they'll feel the impact.

"You need to have skin protection as part of your training program," Wall said.

After Lindquist's melanoma was removed, she still lives what she calls the "classic Steamboat lifestyle," but she's upped her skin protection regimen. She gets regular skin checks, and when she's outside, she lathers on the sunblock and uses sun-protective clothing.

"People say, 'You're crazy, you're wearing a long-sleeve jersey,'" Lindquist said. "I just say my skin can't handle it and I can't risk it."

She's not afraid to let other people know if she sees something strange on their skin. "Anything I see different on people, I point it out," Lindquist said. "I tell people I had melanoma."

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.

Sun Safety Tips for Athletes

• Use a sweat-resistant sunblock and reapply every 40 or 80 minutes, as directed. A sunscreen that looks white when applied can help: You’ll see if you’ve missed a spot or if it gets rubbed off.

• Wear sun-protective clothing. For instance, cyclists may choose UPF-rated arm and leg warmers.

• Check your skin regularly following the ABCDEs of melanoma. Have spots checked if they’re asymmetrical, have a border that is irregular, have a different color, have a diameter larger than one-quarter inch or are evolving or changing. Also, watch for “ugly ducklings,” or moles that look different.

If you go

What: Beyond Sunscreen: An Athlete’s Guide to Skin Protection, presented by Maryann Wall, MD

When: 6 to 7 p.m. May 17

Where: Yampa Valley Medical Center conference rooms

Information: RSVP at yvmc.org