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Golfers have more than double the risk of skin cancer

A new study led by the University of South Australia indicates that golfers are more than twice as likely to develop skin cancer compared to the general public. 

This connection is largely attributed to the prolonged exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun, especially since golfers frequently have their arms and legs exposed during play.

Focus of the study

The researchers examined health details from an online survey of 336 golfers. In order to investigate the potential effects of regular golfing, the study was focused on individuals who teed off at least once a month.

The responses were compared to the health data of nearly 16,000 Australians from the broader public. This larger sample was sourced from participants of the Australian Health Survey, a comprehensive study conducted every four years.

Alarming trend 

The comparisons revealed an alarming trend. While 27% of golfers had been diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their lives, only 7% of the general population had been diagnosed. 

Even after accounting for factors like age, gender, education, and smoking habits, Australian golfers were found to be 2.4 times more prone to skin cancer than the general public.

Study limitations 

Study lead author Dr. Brad Stenner emphasized that there may be some limitations to the study. For example, he noted that older golfers might have been exposed to damaging UV rays before they even began golfing, which means the impact of this exposure could be manifesting now. 

Furthermore, Dr. Stenner acknowledged that the study did not gather data on the specific levels of UV radiation exposure among the participants. 

Nevertheless, UVR exposure is a “very well-established cause” of skin cancer, said Dr. Stenner. He further noted that the study found “a significantly higher risk, which we believe is associated with prolonged sun exposure and/or not using skin-protection strategies.”

Study implications 

Dr. Stenner mentioned the broader implications of the research, especially for those who love the sport. While the study acknowledged the undeniable health benefits of golfing, it equally underscored the hazards. 

“While there are clear health benefits of engaging in golf, this study explored the risks of playing golf as golfers tend to play for four or more hours in the sun, using various sun protection strategies,” said Dr. Stenner.

The research team is hopeful that these findings will motivate golf organizations and clubs to actively educate players about the heightened risk of skin cancer. Proactive preventive measures, such as the promotion of high SPF sunscreens, suitable hats, and protective clothing, can go a long way in safeguarding golf enthusiasts.

The study is published in the journal BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine.

More about skin cancer 

Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells, and it occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells triggers mutations or genetic defects. These defects lead to the cells multiplying rapidly and forming malignant tumors. 

Types of skin cancer

Basal cell carcinoma 

The most common type of skin cancer, BCC occurs in the basal cells, which produce new skin cells. It often appears as a pearly or waxy bump or a flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion.

Squamous cell carcinoma 

This type often forms on skin that has been exposed to the sun for many years. SCC may appear as a firm, red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly or crusted surface.


The most aggressive form of skin cancer, melanoma originates in the melanocytes, the cells that produce the pigment melanin. It can appear anywhere on the body and often manifests as a large brownish spot with darker speckles or moles that change in size, shape, or color.

Risk factors

Sun exposure

Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can cause damage to the DNA in skin cells, leading to mutations.

Fair skin

Those with lighter skin have less melanin and are more susceptible to UV damage.

Family history

Genetics can play a part, and having a family member with skin cancer increases the risk.


Older individuals may have had more cumulative exposure to the sun, increasing the risk, although skin cancer can occur at any age.

Chemicals and substances 

Exposure to certain substances such as arsenic can increase the risk of skin cancer.


Sun protection

Wearing sunscreen, protective clothing, and sunglasses, and seeking shade during peak sun hours can help protect the skin from UV damage.

Regular screening

Regular skin exams by healthcare providers or self-exams can help detect skin cancer at an early stage when it’s most treatable.

Avoid tanning beds

Artificial UV rays from tanning beds are also harmful and can increase the risk of skin cancer.

Skin cancer is a serious but often preventable condition. Awareness and education about the risks, especially among groups such as golfers who spend prolonged periods in the sun, can play a crucial role in prevention and early detection.


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