JUN 13, 2024 3:00 AM PDT

Elevated Skin Cancer Risk Among Golfers

WRITTEN BY: Katie Kokolus

As the United States Open Championship (US Open) commences in Pinehurst, NC, it's worth noting the historical significance of this event.  For the next four days, some of the world's best golfers will compete for their share of a $20,000,000 purse.  The US Open, organized annually by the United States Golf Association (USGA) is a prestigious event for golfers on the PGA Tour and PGA European Tour circuits.  The competition, which involves 72 holes of golf divided into four rounds, has a rich history dating back to its first edition in 1895. 

The first US Open included ten professional golfers playing 36 holes in one day.  Horace Rawlins, an English competitor, won $150, a gold medal, and became the first temporary owner of the US Open Trophy.  In 1889, the US Open expanded to a two-day, 72 hole competition won by Scotsman Fred Herd.  The current schedule of 72 holes over four days began in 1965

Over the years, major golf legends appeared in the US Open, including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, and Rory McIlroy.  The famous golf tournament has become an important summer milestone for golf aficionados.  Scheduling the tournament's final round on Father’s Day has helped make the US Open a much-loved event families can enjoy. 

The start of the iconic US Open signaled an opportunity to discuss sun protection for golfers, both pros and those playing for fun! 

Golf's popularity has surged, partly due to its physical, mental, and cognitive advantages.  Golfers often cite the allure of the outdoor environment as a key factor in their choice to play the sport. Even those who prefer to watch on TV can discern that golfers, like participants in other outdoor activities, are likely exposed to high levels of ultra-violet (UV) radiation.  Research has revealed the risk of excessive UV radiation exposure for outdoor enthusiasts in activities such as cycling, tennis, sailing, and cricket.  Notably, reports indicate that golfers, despite their high UV exposure, do not consistently use sunscreen.  This underscores the need to target golfers with sun protection campaigns! 

A 2023 study aimed to compare the risk of skin cancer between golfers and the general population.  Out of a cohort of 336 golfers in Australia, a staggering 27% were found to have developed skin cancer, compared to a mere 7% of the general population.  Even after adjusting for confounders such as age, sex, education, and smoking status, the study found that golfers were nearly 2.5 times more likely to develop skin cancer than the general population.  These findings underscore the urgent and immediate need for sun protection among golfers. 

So, when enjoying all the benefits of golf, it's crucial to remember to protect your skin from the sun with high-sun protection factor (SPF) sunscreen, appropriate clothing, and hats.  Luckily, golfers have ample time to apply and reapply sunscreen between holes, making it easier to stay protected and enjoy the game without worrying about the health risks!


Sources: Dermatol Ther, Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, J Aging Phys Act, BMJ Open Sport Ex Med, Actas Dermosifiliogr

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
I received a PhD in Tumor Immunology from SUNY Buffalo and BS and MS degrees from Duquesne University. I also completed a postdoc fellowship at the Penn State College of Medicine. I am interested in developing novel strategies to improve the efficacy of immunotherapies used to extend cancer survivorship.
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