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What Every Golfer Needs to Know About Skin Cancer

June 04, 2015

Here in Florida, we love our golf. In fact, with over 1,200 courses throughout the state, Florida can make a strong claim for Golf Capital of the World (even our license plates say so).

While no one would argue that golf isn’t a fun pastime, our year-round access to the sun-drenched links comes with an increased risk for a serious and life-threatening condition—skin cancer.

During every hour spent on the course, recreational golfers can receive 3.5 to 5.4 times the amount of UV radiation exposure needed to cause a sunburn. That’s a serious amount of skin-damaging rays. All this excessive UV radiation can lead to skin cancer, a disease that affects more than 3.5 million Americans every year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Even professional golfers are not immune. PGA Tour pros Adam Scott, Rory Sabbatini and Aron Price have all had bouts with skin cancer. Sabbatini had a squamous cell carcinoma removed from his face. For Scott, it was basal cell carcinoma, another type of non-melanoma skin cancer. Price experienced three bouts of non-melanoma cancer before doctors diagnosed him in 2010 with melanoma, the most serious of all skin cancers.

I give all these examples not to scare you, but to show you that skin cancer is a real danger when you spend so much time playing an outdoor sport. And, it’s not just golfers. The same goes for tennis and soccer players and anyone who jet-skis or boats.

There are several risk factors for skin cancer, including family history, having pale skin that easily burns or having several moles. Men over age 40 have a higher risk of getting this disease. While prolonged sun exposure is a significant risk factor, so is unprotected exposure. Some golfers wear hats and sunglasses to protect their eyes and face from the sun, but in many cases their arms, legs and neck are still exposed.

Protect Yourself From UV Exposure on the Golf Course

Practicing sun-safe behaviors is so important for golfers and people who spend leisure time outdoors.

Certain features on the golf course, such as ponds and sand traps, reflect light and increase the intensity of the sun’s rays. The same holds true for people involved in water sports. If you jet ski, for example, you may be exposed to more sun damage than you realize.

Aside from avoiding the sun altogether, the best thing you can do is cover up or wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen to minimize sun damage. If you plan to be outdoors for a long time, wear a wide-rim hat and sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection and put on protective clothing to minimize sun exposure on certain parts of your body. The American Cancer Society calls this the “Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap” rule—slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat and wrap on sunglasses.

Even if you take all these precautions, be vigilant about changes to your skin. If you notice a skin discoloration; a mole, growth or spot; bleeding, discharge or a change in appearance to a bump, schedule an appointment with your doctor to get a check-up.

Outdoor sports are a lot of fun, especially here in sunny Florida. But before you head out there, just take a few extra minutes to protect yourself. This tiny step could minimize sun damage—and your risk of skin cancer.