The NHL’s Seattle Kraken’s played their inaugural home game at Climate Pledge Arena on October 23rd, 2021. For two people in attendance that night, it was a life-changing event.
As Seattle fan Nadia Popovici enjoyed the game in her family’s seats behind the visitor’s bench, something caught her eye that likely would have been overlooked by every other fan in the arena. Popovici, a volunteer nursing assistant and soon-to-be medical student, spotted what appeared to be a cancerous mole on the back of the neck of Vancouver Canucks’ assistant equipment manager Brian Hamilton. Tapping on the glass and getting Hamilton’s attention, Popovici held up her phone to show a message conveying her concern. Hamilton put his hand on his neck, nodded his thanks, and went on with his work.
Popovici’s note did register with Hamilton though, and both his wife and the Canucks’ team doctor thought the mole was suspicious. Hamilton had the mole removed and the biopsy confirmed it was type-2 malignant melanoma that, had it not been found early, could have ultimately been fatal. Fast forward to a Twitter plea from the Canucks to help Hamilton find that caring Kraken fan before the team’s next visit to Seattle and the story had a happy ending for all parties involved.
Are Athletes At Greater Risk For Skin Cancer?
While hockey is most often played indoors with minimal sun exposure, Brian Hamilton’s experience serves as a reminder that anyone can develop skin cancer. However, if your sport is played outdoors, you might even be at a higher risk. Beyond excess UV exposure, you’re also at higher risk for skin cancer if you have fair skin, a history of sunburns, live at higher elevations or in warmer, sunny climates, you have moles or a family history of skin cancer. In addition, some medications can increase your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight and make you more vulnerable to sunburn.
According to the Mayo Clinic, skin cancer can occur anywhere on your body, but it most often develops on skin exposed to the sun. For an athlete, skin cancer can form on the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, hands, legs or any other area that receives extended exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun. While many believe a suntan provides a healthy glow and protection from the sun’s rays, a tan is actually the skin’s injury response to excess UV exposure.
How You Can Lower Your Risk
The obvious answer is to minimize exposure to UV radiation (i.e. sunlight and tanning beds). You should especially avoid excess exposure to sunlight in the middle of the day when the UV radiation is strongest. For most of North America, that’s usually between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Even if it’s cloudy or in the middle of winter, your skin can still absorb UV radiation. That’s important, since sun exposure can also cause skin cancer over time.
Beyond avoiding mid-day sun, wear sunscreen all year-round. Look for broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply it generously over all of your exposed skin and reapply it every two hours.
If it’s possible in your sport, wear protective clothing that offers some level of SPF. One added bonus is much of the newer UV-blocking apparel also has moisture-wicking properties that can help keep you cool when you’re working hard. Make sure any UV-blocking apparel you buy is made for athletes and will offer a full range of movement. And don’t forget sunglasses to block out UVA and UVB radiation around your eyes as well.
Finally, check your skin regularly and keep an eye on any spots that may seem to grow or change color over time. Look for new skin growths or bumps, or changes in the moles, freckles, bumps or birthmarks that you may already have.
Regardless of your age, race, or body type, if your athletic endeavors keep you outdoors, you could have a higher risk of skin cancer. The old saying goes that having “skin in the game” means you’re investing yourself in the competition. But remember that by minimizing your UV exposure, you can still compete and not play games with your skin.