Swimmers’ cancer risk sparks call for sun safe Olympics

Keira Jenkins |

Elite swimmers need to be protected from too much exposure to the sun, researchers say.
Elite swimmers need to be protected from too much exposure to the sun, researchers say.

Brisbane’s 2032 Games need to be sun safe, say researchers who are studying the risk of skin cancer among elite swimmers.

Dermatologist Peter Soyer checked the skin of 44 elite swimmers and 23 of the athletes’ support staff, as part of a study by University of Queensland researchers.

Alongside skin checks, participants completed a survey, with three of the athletes reporting a previous history of melanoma.

No melanomas were found during the study, but some of the athletes and support staff were referred for further checks.

The athleticism of Australia’s best swimmers is on show at the national trials in Brisbane until Saturday.

Researchers Peter Soyer and Monika Janda
Peter Soyer and Monika Janda are studying the risk of skin cancer for elite swimmers. (HANDOUT/UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND)

But Monika Janda, from University of Queensland’s Centre for Health Services Research, said more needs to be done to keep these athletes safe while they train and compete, especially in the lead up to Brisbane’s 2032 Olympic Games.

“A sun safe Olympics is something we could be potentially proud of,” Professor Janda told AAP.

“We are in the spotlight in 2032, if we can have really well-shaded walkways that athletes – and spectators – can get to venues, if venues are set up to to properly provide shade, and have sunscreen everywhere for people to use.”

Sixty 60 per cent of the swimmers in the study had experienced one or more severe sunburns as an adult and 16 per cent reported having 50 or more severe sunburns.

Among the athletes’ support staff, 96 per cent reported one or more severe sunburns, while 22 per cent had been severely sunburnt 50 or more time during adulthood.

Prof Janda said coaches and support staff need to be considered when implementing shade and other sun safe measures.

Despite their heightened risk, only a small proportion of the elite swimmers regularly checked their skin, with less than a quarter undergoing a skin check by a doctor in the past 12 months.

“Building awareness is something we hope to achieve with our study,” Prof Janda said.

“Think about how to protect yourself better and being aware of your own skin is very important … and if you do see any changes present it to a doctor.”

She said it was difficult to tell someone’s risk of skin cancer because many factors, including the number of moles, skin type, family history and sun exposure.

AAP