Skin Screenings and Sun Safety for Athletes

skin cancer, skin cancer screening, loyola dermatology, team in training, team in training illinois

When Ross Forman, a coach for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, set out to lead a Saturday run in July, he had no idea how different that day’s training run would prove to be. Instead of starting at Wilson Avenue like usual, on that particular day, Team in Training began its run at Road Runner Sports in Lincoln Park, providing the runners, including Forman, with a chance to cover different areas of the Lakefront Trail.

“We ran to the lakefront and started heading north, and I stopped to wait for some of my runners to catch up,” Forman says. “I see this free skin cancer screening tent at the boat house at North Ave. I’d had a mark on my chest for awhile and thought I should get it checked out but kept telling myself I’d do it later.”

rossformanchicagomarathon2015Forman went to the tent, but felt he was too sweaty for a screening at the moment and decided to come back after the run. As he walked out of the tent, he crossed paths with Dr. Rebecca Tung, the division director of Loyola University’s Department of Dermatology.

“She asked me if I had been screened and I said no, but I planned to stop back later,” Forman says. “She looks at me and says, ‘Really? There’s no one here. I’ll get you in and out in 90 seconds.’”

Tung performed a skin check and, upon seeing the mark on Forman’s chest, told him it looked like basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer. Forman set up an appointment to have the mark removed and biopsied two days later.

For the past three summers, the Chicago Dermatological Society and the Illinois Dermatological Society in partnership with the Chicago Park District, Women’s Dermatologic Society and La Roche-Posay have hosted a free public skin cancer screening at North Avenue Beach. The screening, Tung says, promotes awareness about sun safety in addition to providing skin cancer screenings to anyone who wants one.

“You can come into the area and tell us what you want looked at, and we use our eyes to do a visual inspection and, if we want a closer look or see a mole that looked unusual, we have a little device that looks like a magnifier and a light called a dermatoscope to get a better look at the architecture of the specific lesion,” Tung says. “It’s great for people who have no insurance or from somewhere without access to dermatology. It gives them peace of mind that something they’re worried about can be evaluated for free.”

Though the skin cancer screening at North Ave. Beach only happens once per year, other free screenings take place in different locations throughout the year, with a list available on the American Academy of Dermatology’s website.

“With skin cancer, if you can prevent it, that’s the most effective step, but if you can detect skin cancer early on, the chance for cure is much better and the risk for disfigurement is much less,” Tung says.

After Forman’s experience, he asked Tung to come out to meet his team. On Labor Day weekend, she and other volunteers performed 68 skin checks on Team in Training runners, identifying several cancers in the process.

“It’s a good experience to know what moles are normal and what might need extra attention,” Tung says. “We were happy to partner with him. It’s important to get it out to those in the public who enjoy doing things outdoors that it’s possible to be safe [while spending a lot of time in the sun].”

Tung recommends that athletes complete their runs as early as possible, and particularly avoid running between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. She advises runners to use broad spectrum, waterproof, sweatproof sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and, in addition to covering exposed skin on the arms, legs and torso, to apply sunscreen to the entire face, with a special emphasis on ears.

“Put on sunscreen 30 minutes before you go out and reapply every two hours,” Tung says. “If that’s not feasible, reapply every four hours, but two hours would be ideal. Pay special attention to the lips, as you can get a fair amount of UV damage to lips and skin cancer on the lips is a very unpleasant experience. Using a lip balm with SPF would be great.”

Tung also says you can wear protective clothing with a UPF between 30 and 50 to help block the sun’s rays while outside.

Reapplication can be tricky during the middle of a workout, so Tung suggests making sure your first application of the day comes from a cream or lotion and reapplying with a sunscreen in a towelette or spray as a last resort.

“With the sprays, it’s hard to get enough actual sunscreen on the body to make it equal to what it claims it is [in terms of SPF],” Tung says. “That being said, if you’re out there and your two hours is up, something is better than nothing.”