Special Report: Golf's silent killer

Skin Cancer

By the time you finish reading this, somebody somewhere will have received the devastating news that they have skin cancer.

Inevitably, the words will hang in the air, suspended in an instant of horrified disbelief as their impact and implications sink in.

Skin cancer has become the most common form of cancer in the UK, with 100,000 new cases diagnosed every year. In the US, that number exceeds four million, with between 40% and 50% of all Americans who live to be 65 expected to develop some form of the disease.

Recent research has identified golfers as one of the groups most ‘at risk’ of skin cancer and yet so many who play the game remain blissfully ignorant as to either its causes or the likelihood of contracting it.

It is time for that ignorance to end.

***

Broadly speaking, there are three main different types of skin cancer. The most common (and mildest) of these is Basal Cell Carcinoma. It is a cancer that grows on parts of your skin that are exposed to a lot of sun, particularly your nose and face. They typically start off as small, shiny bumps and have a tendency to grow slowly. They are also unlikely to spread to other parts of your body.

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The second most common form of skin cancer is Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Again, it’s usually found on areas of the body damaged by UV rays - either from the sun or tanning beds - and is a fairly slow-growing skin cancer. Unlike other forms, it can spread to the tissues, bones and nearby lymph nodes, which makes treatment more difficult. However, caught early enough, it’s eminently treatable.

Then there’s the third type: melanoma. It is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, which develops when unrepaired damage to skin cells - mostly caused by UV rays - triggers genetic defects that cause the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumours. According to Cancer Research UK, there are 15,419 new cases of melanoma skin cancer diagnosed in the UK every year, of which as many as two-thirds are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun.

Mortality rates for the disease have more than tripled since the 1970s, with around 2,500 deaths - approximately seven per day - recorded in the UK in 2014. Cancer Research UK estimates that one in 54 people will be diagnosed with malignant melanoma in their lifetime.

Skin cancer is also an extremely indiscriminating disease. Anybody can get it. The risk, though, is thought to be higher amongst people with: fair skin and/or light-coloured eyes; an abundance of large and irregularly-shaped moles; a family history of skin cancer; and a history of excessive sun exposure or blistering sunburns. Those who have lived at high altitudes or with year-round sunshine and those who have received radiation treatments are also a ‘high risk’ group.

So, too, are golfers.

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