Point prevalence of non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers in Australian surfers and swimmers in Southeast Queensland and Northern New South Wales

Mike Climstein*, Brendan Doyle, Michael Stapelberg, Nedeljka Rosic, Isolde Hertess, James Furness, Vini Simas, Joe Walsh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Background: Surfing and swimming are two popular outdoor aquatic activities in Australia with an estimated 2.7 million surfers and three million swimmers; however, these activities are associated with intermittent exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Our aim was to determine the point prevalence of pre-skin cancer (actinic keratosis (PSC)), non-melanoma (NMSC) and melanoma skin cancers (MSC) in Australian surfers and swimmers. 

Methods: This cross-sectional study involved Australian surfers who completed a survey that included physiological demographics, aquatic activity-specific demographics, history of skin cancer followed by screening. 

Results: A total of 171 surfers (n = 116) and swimmers (n = 55) participated in the study. Both groups were identified as having a history of skin cancer (surfers 41.4%, swimmers 36.4%) and a family history of skin cancer (surfers 52.6%, swimmers 43.6%). The majority of both groups reported using a high percentage of a chemical or physical skin cancer prevention strategy (surfers 100%, Swimmers 92.7%, P = 0.003). Significantly more surfers were identified with a skin cancer of any type vs. swimmers (50% vs. 27.3%; OR 2.67; P = 0.005) with most the common skin cancer being PSC (44.7% vs. 11.3%, P = 0.076) followed by basal cell carcinoma (BCC) (24.2% vs. 7.6%, P = 0.068). There was a total of seven MSC identified in surfers and swimmers (4.6% vs. 0.8%, respectively, P = 0.137). Most skin cancers in surfers were located on the face (28.0%) followed by the arm and back (12.1% each), whereas in swimmers, the majority of skin cancers were identified on the face (17.3%), followed by the arm and lower leg (15.4% each). The highest number of melanomas were identified in surfers (n = 6) and mainly located on the face (n = 2) and back (n = 2). There was a single melanoma identified on the back in a swimmer. With the groups combined, the majority (42.9%) of melanomas were identified on the back in participants, followed by the face (28.6%). Rates per 100,000 of NMSC and MSC in surfers and swimmers (respectively) were BCC (11,206 vs. 14,545), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) in situ (13,793 vs. 12,727), SCC (1,724 vs. 3,636) and MSC (5,172 vs. 1,818). When compared to the general Australian population, surfers and swimmers had higher odds ratios (OR), which included BCCs (OR 7.3 and 9.4, respectively), SCCs (OR 1.7 and 3.5, respectively) and MSC (OR 96.7 and 18.8, respectively). 

Conclusion: Surfers and swimmers had consistently higher rates of PSC, NMSC and MSC than the general Australian population. Point prevalence of MSC (groups combined) was 76-fold higher than the general Australian population. These findings highlight the clinical importance of regular skin cancer screenings in individuals who surf or swim for early detection and treatment of skin cancer. Additionally, these aquatic enthusiasts should be advised of the benefits of sun protection strategies such as chemical and physical barriers to reduce the likelihood of developing skin cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13243
JournalPEERJ
Volume10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2022

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