Roughly eighteen months ago a teaching pro friend of mine named Alan (not his real name) noticed a small red spot on his chest. He didn't pay much attention to it and went about his business of teaching tennis for ten hours a day in the hot, southern sun.
Six months later, when the spot started to crust over and bleed, Allan immediately contacted his family physician who told him that it was nothing to worry about but to keep an eye on it.
The spot became larger and "bumpy" as Alan described it. It also turned different shades of red. Alan went to a different doctor who took a biopsy and came back with a diagnosis of malignant melanoma. In other words, skin cancer.
Needless to say, when the doctor said the words "malignant melanoma" it was a severe wake up call because melanoma, as Alan soon learned, is one form of skin cancer that can be deadly.
Like millions of other tennis players around the world (myself included), Allan spends countless hours in the sun, playing and teaching tennis. He was aware of skin cancer but paid it little attention.
He splashed on a bit of sunscreen when he thought of it, wore a hat when it was convenient and went about his business of teaching in the hot, burning sun.
Fortunately, a specialist was able to remove all of Allan's diseased tissue and today he is back on the courts albeit with a new respect for the sun and it's potential dangers.
Not so fortunate was Anne (not her real name) from California. Anne and her husband Bill were young parents who loved tennis, played as often as they could and got their children involved at an early age. Anne developed skin cancer and, at the age of 38, died of malignant melanoma.
Yes, you can DIE from skin cancer and it is time for tennis players of all ages to take the sun seriously and do everything possible to protect ourselves from it's potential damage.
SOME ALARMING STATISTICS:
Approximately one in 82 Americans will develop melanoma in his or her lifetime and it is estimated that in 1998 there will be approximately 41,600 new cases of melanoma and over 7,000 of these people will die from the disease.
Melanoma is the fifth most common form of cancer in the United States and is rising much more rapidly than any other form of the disease.
It spreads much more easily than the other two main forms of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, and can invade other organs, particularly the liver and lungs.
WHAT CAUSES SKIN CANCER?
Skin cancer begins in the body's melanocytes, the skin cells that are responsible for tanning, and is most often found on the trunks of the body of both men and women as well as the head and neck in men and the lower legs in women. So yes, there is definitely a link between too much sun and the disease. Genetics also contribute to one's liklehood of contracting the disease.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
There is good news. Melanoma, if caught early is relatively easily cured. Early stage melanoma can be handled through surgery, where the doctor removes the cancerous tissue as well as some surrounding, healthy tissue, just to be safe.
Even if melanoma is in the advanced stage there is increased hope. New treatments have greatly increased the survival rates of victims who's melanoma has metastasized.
Early detection is vital in treating any form of the disease so, with this in mind, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends conducting a self- examination at home every three months. You will need a bright light, full-length mirror, hand mirror and a blow drier.
Conduct the exam in the following manner:
The American Academy Of Dermatologists have come up with the following quiz which will help you to calculate your own risk of getting skin cancer:
- Examine your head and face using one or both mirrors. Use the blow drier to inspect your scalp.
- Check hands, including nails. In full-length mirror, examine elbows, arms and underarms.
- Focus on neck, chest torso. Women: check under breasts.
- With back to mirror, use hand mirror to inspect back of neck,
shoulders, upper arms, back, buttocks and legs.
- Sitting down, check legs and feet, including soles, heels and nails. Use a hand mirror to examine genitals.
Blonde/red (4 points)
Brown (3 points)
Black (1 point)
Blue/green (4 points)
When exposed to one hour of sun, you:
Hazel (3 points)
Brown ( 2 points)
Burn and sometimes blister (4 points)
Your job is:
Burn, then tan ( 3 points)
tan (1 point)
outdoors (4 points)
Has anyone in your family had skin cancer?
mixed (3 points)
indoors (2 points)
Yes (5 points)
No (1 point)
Where in the U.S. did you live before the age of 18? (if you live outside the US, try to guess which region best approximates the sun exposure you received)
South (4 points)
Mid-latitudes (3 points)
North (2 points)
10-15 points: below average risk
16-20 points: average risk
21-24 points: high risk
25 points: very high risk
No longer is the sun something to be worshipped, it should be respected and even feared. Don't wait for your wake-up call. Be sure to protect yourself and make sure your children are protected too, not only on a tennis court but even when you simply walk out the door.
- Try to find a court which will allow you to avoid the sun as much as possible, stay in the shade.
- Use a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 every time you go outside. 15 absorbs almost 94 % of the sun's rays. Higher SPF's increase this percentage slightly and are more expensive but it is worth the money because experts say that the higher SPF's (30 and 40) actually stay on longer, especially if you have sensitive skin. Also, use a sunscreen which provides protection against UVA and UBA rays. Apply the sunscreen 20-30 minutes before you take the court, then re-apply it every hour or two, depending upon how much you're sweating.
- Try to avoid playing between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is at it's strongest.
- If you're going to be playing in the sun for a long time, wear protective clothing.
- Get used to playing in sunglasses and make sure your glasses have UV-protective lenses.
For further information about skin cancer or how you can protect yourself you can contact the: