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Burning issue Hobby athletes ignorant of skin cancer risks

Time to reapply? Participants in the ten-mile Grand Prix of Bern in 2014


Switzerland has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in Europe, along with Scandinavian countries. Researchers in Bern have found out that joggers and young men in particular are insufficiently informed about the risks. 

Skin tumours have increased in recent years, and this trend is expected to continue, according to a team led by Patrick Antony Oberholzer at Bern University Hospital. 

The reasons are changing lifestyles and higher ultra-violet radiation (UVR) exposure, with outdoor sport playing a large role, the authors wrote in the scientific journal Swiss Medical Weeklyexternal link

In order to assess UVR protection and skin cancer awareness among recreational athletes, the researchers surveyed runners aged over 18 taking part in the Grand Prix of Bern – the largest running event in Switzerland, with more than 30,000 entrants. 

The survey consisted of questions about the participants’ ­personal characteristics, such as age, gender, educational ­attainment, skin type, history of sunburns and personal/family history of skin cancer, as well as participants’ subjective attitudes and behaviour related to UVR protection and skin cancer avoidance. 

They were asked, for example, what kind of top they wore for training on a hot sunny day and whether they reapplied sunscreen when outside for more than an hour. 

A total of 970 runners – 457 males and 513 females with an average age of 41 – completed the survey. 


The results showed that fair-skinned female runners aged over 35 protected themselves against UVR significantly better than the average Grand Prix participant. 

In Switzerland, the incidence of melanoma is higher for women than for men. “This observation is supported by the notion that women are thought to have a stronger desire to be suntanned,” the authors said. 

“On the other hand, with regard to sun protective behaviour, women have been reported to apply skin care products more frequently than men. Our findings indicate that female athletes have a slightly higher UVR protection and skin cancer awareness score than their male colleagues.” 

In general, both men and women over 35 were more aware of UVR protection and skin cancer than younger people. The researchers said this was possibly because older people are more concerned about their health and are more likely to come into contact with someone who has had skin cancer. 

Young men were found to be the least informed about the risks of UVR, confirming the results of a previous German studyexternal link

The authors also found that higher educational level was associated with better protection against UVR. “Our hypothesis is that runners with a higher level of education have a greater knowledge of the harmful effects of sunlight. They know they should use higher UVR protection and should be more aware of skin cancer,” they wrote. 


The Bern researchers also noted that people with fair skin protected themselves better than those with darker skin. They said this reflected a common misconception that people with darker pigments don’t need to apply sun cream. 

“Our findings indicate that further work is needed in the education of the general public, and athletes in particular,” the scientists concluded. 

“Since young outdoor sport competitors are at high risk for excessive sun exposure, it is important that future health campaigns focus on this group to improve their knowledge about UVR protection behaviour and skin cancer awareness.” and agencies

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