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Time to get sun smart: Reduce your risk of melanoma

Spending time out in the sun makes us more susceptible to melanoma and other skin cancers, but there are ways we can minimize the risks.

May 11 is World Melanoma Day – facts about the disease and tips on how to avoid it.

Great Britain’s Leanda Cave was diagnosed with skin cancer just months after taking the 2012 Ironman World Championship.

As the weather improves after months of being asked to stay close to home, Canadians are looking to spend more time outdoors. Spending time in the sun, though, makes us susceptible to skin cancer, which is why it’s important to take adequate precautions to reduce the risk of melanoma and other forms of the disease.

Triathletes can be especially susceptible to skin cancer because of the extended time spent training in the sun. A study done by a German group at the 1999 Ironman World Championship showed that the competitors in the study “considerably exceeded” the suggested limits of UV exposure. (Anyone else experienced some major sunburn after a long race?)

Leanda Cave is possibly one of the highest profile examples of a triathlete diagnosed with skin cancer. She was diagnosed with Basal Cell Carcinoma about five months after she took the 2012 Ironman World Championship.

While the incidence of some types of cancer are decreasing every year, “melanoma is among the types that continue to increase annually,” according to the Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA). “In 2019 melanoma was the seventh most common type of newly diagnosed cancer for both males and females.”

Since 1994 the incidence rates for melanoma have gone up 2.2 per cent for men and 2 per cent for women – this year it is expected that 4,400 men and 3,600 women will be diagnosed with melanoma in Canada, according to statistics provided by the CDA.

While sun exposure is a risk factor for both melanoma and other skin cancers, we do have options to reduce the risks of getting the disease, says CDA president Dr. Kerri Purdy.

Related: Skin care tips for race day

The CDA recommmends the following precautions to reduce your risk of melanoma:

  • Seek shade between 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
  • Wear protective clothing, a wide brimmed hat, and UV-protective sunglasses.
  • Wear sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30.2
  • Early detection is key, and everyone should regularly perform a skin evaluation and see a certified dermatologist if you spot something suspicious.

While wearing a “wide brimmed hat” probably isn’t an option while out on a long bike ride, picking the right sunscreen, wearing appropriate clothes (“Sunscreen is good, but clothing is better,” pro triathlete Doug MacLean shared with triathlete.com after his melanoma diagnosis), and choosing times to work out that will avoid the worst of the sun’s rays are certainly worth consideration.

While the incidence of melanoma and other skin cancers might be going up, it does remain very treatable.

“While melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, it is highly treatable when discovered early,” adds Dr. Purdy. “We are also stressing the importance of monitoring your skin and to seek your dermatologist’s advice as soon as you notice worrisome changes.”