Cancer conscious cycling

Peaked cap, lycra bandana and arm covers, and tube of sunscreen

Cover up: cyclists need to be sun-conscious and cover up as much as possible. Photo: Eddie Barkla.

I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains. I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea, Her beauty and her terror – The wide brown land for me!

The draw of wide open country roads, and bushland tracks, all part of Bendigo’s culture and heritage beckoning us. Daylight savings has kicked in and training is in readiness for the Bay in a Day or the Port to Port or maybe the Great Vic Bike Ride or a bit later the Alpine Classic or even the Otways Classic. Plenty of incentives to be out there soaking up the sun and kilometres even if none of these are your target ride for end of 2010 and start of 2011. Cyclists quite often expose tender skin to the blistering heat of the sun and the dreaded C word needs to taken into consideration.

Cyclists are from diverse community vocations, some already exposed to the direct sun, others are desk jockeys or work indoors and the harsh sun barely gets peek on the pale skin. The skin being the largest organ of the body and everyone is at risk of skin cancer although people with skin that burns easily that rarely tans are at the greatest risk. Those who burn in early summer and then tan are also at high risk if they do not protect their skin. Unprotected skin, whether tanned or not, is likely to be damaged by the sun and may develop skin cancer later in life.

How common is skin cancer? Skin cancer rates in Australia are highest than anywhere else in the world. It is the most common form of cancer in Australia affecting all age groups from adolescents upwards. Most common is basal cell carcinoma which accounts for about 75% of all skin cancers. Squamous cell carcinoma accounts for 20% and melanoma less than 5%. One out of two Australians will develop a skin cancer, usually a basal cell carcinoma.

Basal cell carcinomas are most commonly found on the face, neck and upper trunk. They appear as a lump or scaly area and are pale, pearly or red in colour. They may have blood vessels on the surface. Squamous cell carcinomas are less common but more dangerous than basal cell carcinomas. They usually grow over a period of weeks to months. These cancers may spread to other parts of the body (metastasis) if not treated promptly.Squamous cell carcinomas appear on areas of skin most often exposed to the sun. They have scaling, red areas which may bleed easily and ulcerate, looking like an unhealing sore. These common skin cancers generally occur in people over the age of 40. However, basal cell carcinoma can occur in younger adults. The major cause of these skin cancers is sun exposure over many years. Melanoma can occur from adolescence onwards and is most common between 30 and 50 years of age. Melanoma is the rarest but most dangerous skin cancer. It is often a fast growing cancer which if left untreated can spread quickly to other parts of the body to form secondary cancers or metastases.

As cyclists what protection do we require? Take the helmet while it offers a sacrificial protection for the head it is in no way an adequate provider of sun protection. Being well vented it allows sun rays to penetrate through the slots on the head. For those of us that have hair loss there is a need to supplement the helmet with additional head covering. Available are the trendy cycling hats of teams and cycle makes these are not a full sun hat either but at the least combined with sun screen offer some protection with the peak depending whether worn backwards or frontwards. Also available Lycra skull caps with ties at the back covering the head again with the ears and back of neck being open to the sun.

Sporting Sunglasses are now an accepted fashion statement and most are quite large and rap around the side of the eyes and face giving protection from the sun’s rays. The cheeks and the nose below the glasses can suffer from the glare and burn quite rapidly if not covered with sun screen. There are also light weight summer arm protectors that are as a sheer as stockings almost looking quite trendy and the heat does not seem to increase to make them uncomfortable. Make the effort to cover up it could save a lot of pain and heart ache.

Looking forward to seeing you on the road soon God willing

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