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Skin Cancer Risk in Marathon Runners
Written by Jeanne Bohm, Ph.D.   
From the NetDoc medical news feed

Marathon runners had more atypical moles and other skin anomalies than non-runners, which could indicate a greater risk of skin cancer according to a report in the November issue of Archives of Dermatology.

Marathon running is very popular, but evidence suggests that marathon running and other outdoor endurance sports may be associated with skin cancer. During training and competition marathon runners are exposed to high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which has been shown to increase the risk for melanoma. Endurance exercise may also increase the risk for malignant melanoma by suppressing the immune system.

Christina M. Ambros-Rudolph, M.D.and colleagues at the Medical University of Graz, Austria studied 210 marathon runners (166 men and 44 women, age range was 19 to 71) for skin cancer risk factors. The runners answered questions about training intensity, type of clothing worn and whether they used sunscreen. A group of 210 controls, matched to the runners by age and sex, were also evaluated. All participants had a skin cancer examination and completed a questionnaire about personal and family history of skin cancer, changes in skin lesions, sun sensitivity, sunburn frequency and skin and eye color.

Controls exhibited higher sun sensitivity indicated by a larger number of individuals with blue, green or gray eyes and more sensitive skin types. The marathon runners had more atypical nevi and solar lentigines suggestive of a greater risk for malignant melanoma. These atypical changes were more evident in individuals doing intense training. Twenty-four runners and 14 controls were referred to dermatologists for skin lesions possibly indicating skin cancer.

At least 85 percent of the runners wore shorts and short-sleeved shirts when running. Slightly more than half  regularly used sunscreen while approximately 40 percent used it occasionally. The authors believe that increased sun exposure, in addition to possible weakening of the immune system, may increase runner's skin cancer risk.

The researchers conclude that runners should be aware of the role of UV radiation in the development of malignant melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer and be advised to reduce UV exposure by choosing schedules with lower sun exposure, wear adequate clothing, and regularly use water-resistant sunscreens.


AMA Media Release

Malignant Melanoma in Marathon Runners. Arch Dermatol. 2006;142:1471-1474.


About the Author
Jeanne Bohm, Ph.D. is a cancer biologist by training, a medical writer and an experienced science educator.

The author has no financial relationship to any of the companies listed in the article.

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