Pete Colaizzo:
Golfers Should Take Precautions
to Avoid Skin Cancer

August 22, 2010

Poughkeepsie JournalThere is no way to be certain if the game he loves was the cause of his skin cancer five years ago. But Kevin Dollard of Hopewell Junction takes no chances just the same.

“Every round before I go out,” the avid golfer said, “I coat myself with sunblock. Just to be safe, I put it on my entire face, ears, neck, arms — anything that is going to be exposed to the sun.”

There are more than 1 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer diagnosed yearly in the United States and most are sun related, according to the American Cancer Society. The face, ears, neck, lips and back of the hands are common areas to develop non-melanoma skin cancer.

Back in 2005, Dollard — also an avid runner who has won many age-group awards in Mid-Hudson Road Runners Club races — was diagnosed with skin cancer in two places. The worst of it could be found on the left side of his face, where he underwent “Mohs surgery” to remove the cancerous skin.

The plastic surgery was quite involved. Dollard said the surgeon scraped off one layer of skin at a time, continuing until all of the offending skin was removed. He was left with 10 stitches and a pretty sizable scar on the left side of his face.

But mostly, Dollard was left with a feeling of thankfulness with the positive result of the surgery, which has a high success rate. And he was also left with a firm resolve to avoid a recurrence of any skin issues.

“I am a fair-skinned person,” he said. “Growing up as a kid, I was outside all my life. I’m sure some of it had to do with all the golf that I play.”

Dollard, 54, said he grew up in an era in which there was little awareness of skin care as it relates to exposure to the sun’s rays. He said that while younger golfers may not worry as much about the potential dangers of sun exposure on the links, golfers around his age definitely take it seriously.

“The awareness is much better than it used to be, I think,” Dollard said. “You hear warnings out there that I don’t remember when I was a kid. The guys I play with, the older we get, the more we are aware of it.”

This is good news for Kristina Heitzman Carr. Heitzman Carr is a physician assistant with Hudson Dermatology in Poughkeepsie and Fishkill. She said golfers have “special risks” to sun-exposure issues.

“They may not be at the beach,” she said, “but they are out on exposed fairways with little shade for long hours. This can add up to significant accumulated sun exposure.”

Heitzman Carr offers the following recommendations for golfers:

Wear protective clothing, including wide-brim hats, long-sleeve shirts and long pants to avoid exposure. “Those who are extremely susceptible to sunburn should wear UV (ultraviolet) protective clothing,” she said.

• On warm days when golfers will have more skin exposure to the sun’s rays, they should liberally apply 15-30 SPF (sun protection factor) sunblock. It should be reapplied every four hours, or more frequently if golfers perspire a lot. Use of an SPF of 50 or higher does not eliminate the need for liberal re-application, she said.

• Play early or late in the day, avoiding the intense sun of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Those with previous skin-cancer history, like Dollard, should be “extra vigilant,” she said.

• Cloudy days also pose a threat. “Some rays come through even on cloudy days,” she said, “so use moderate precautions even during these times.”

Lastly, Heitzman Carr said golfers should not wear the dark-tanned or sunburned skin as a badge of honor.

“Remember,” she said, “if you get a sunburn or even a dark tan, you have experienced ultraviolet radiation damage to your skin.”