Protect yourself from skin cancer during outdoor winter sports

Protect yourself from skin cancer during outdoor winter sports

Julia Murray, a Canadian Olympic Ski Cross athlete, is all too familiar with the consequences of not protecting your skin in the winter. Julia lost her father Dave Murray – a two-time Olympian and member of the infamous Crazy Canucks – from an advanced form of skin cancer when she was very young. As a result, Julia is doing everything she can to help raise awareness of this cause, including teaming up with the Melanoma Network of Canada to educate Canadians on the dangers of UV radiation in winter months.

“My father wasn’t aware of the risks of UV radiation in winter,” says Julia. “The winter sun is just as dangerous as summer sun. As a skier myself, I take precautions against winter sun, and I encourage all others who are outside enjoying the slopes or other outdoor activities to do the same this winter.”

Survey results show that men are more relaxed in their attitudes and behaviours towards sun awareness and protection. Men are less likely than women to:

• Accurately identify melanoma as skin cancer (80 per cent vs. 86 per cent);

• Wear sunscreen in all situations, regardless of the season; and

• Consider environmental effects as factors in changing the intensity of UV rays.

Furthermore, when men aged 18 to 34 were asked about their greatest skin-related concern, they ranked moisturizing, preventing pimples and acne and preventing skin cancer equally. This is particularly disconcerting as the lifetime risk of melanoma for men is higher than in women. In fact, men will account for 56 per cent of all new cases of melanoma this year and 62 per cent of deaths.

Canadians spend a lot of time outdoors in the winter and may not realize they are putting themselves at risk by not wearing sunscreen.

“Over exposure to winter sun is dangerous because UV radiation can’t be seen or felt,” says Annette Cyr, chair of the Melanoma Network of Canada. “UV radiation levels are influenced by the sun’s elevation, cloud cover, altitude and reflection – not temperature of the air, which means that sunscreen is required year-round. If skin is left unprotected, the risk of melanoma increases.”

Exposed skin is at risk of more than frostbite

Melanoma is the most aggressive and deadliest form of skin cancer. An estimated 5,500 Canadians will be diagnosed with melanoma this year and 950 will die from it. The survival rate for melanoma is high if it is detected early and, unlike many cancers, melanoma is clearly visible on the skin.

Winter sun safety tips:

• Wear sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on all exposed areas, and apply just before going outside.

• Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after excessive sweating.

• Protect yourself with clothing, a hat with a brim, and sunglasses year-round.

• Check your skin monthly to detect malignant melanoma early.

• More information on winter sun safety is available at www.melanomanetwork.ca