Farmers’ outdoor work can increase skin cancer risk

Published 9:22 am Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Many farmers have long-term exposure to the sun that can put them at risk for developing skin cancer.

“As people age, they often see changes in their skin, age spots, that sort of thing,” said Dr. Amy Johnson, a certified family nurse at the Centra Medical Group at Bedford Memorial Hospital and chairman of the Bedford County Farm Bureau Young Farmers Committee. “Any spot that changes quickly, that grows up and out of the skin, or becomes crusty, needs to be examined right away. Also, any spots that are easily irritated or bleed easily need to be looked at.

“There is no such thing as safe tanning. UVA and UVB rays from the sun both damage skin cells permanently.”

There are several different forms of skin cancer, but Johnson explained that melanoma is the most dangerous because it is likely to metastasize, or spread to other parts of the body. It can be aggressive and invade other organs.

“Typically people who are out in the sun a lot tend to have recurring lesions in the same places,” she noted, so farmers and others who work outdoors should get an annual skin examination. They also should be aware that a cancerous spot that is removed can return nearby.

The best cure for skin cancer is prevention, Johnson remarked.

“Yes, your mama was right. Do use sunscreen regularly,” she said.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using a water- and sweat-resistant broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen with SPF 30 or greater for extended outdoor work.

Users should apply sunscreen 30 minutes prior to going outside and reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.

“Farmers also should wear wide-brim hats that cover their noses, ears and the back of their necks,” Johnson added. “Those are the most common sites where I see skin cancers. They also make clothing now that protects against UVA rays and is lightweight and long-sleeved to protect the skin. You should avoid working in the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; stick to the shade. Remember that even on overcast days you can still get badly burned.”