Farmers at risk for skin cancer; need to prevent sun damage

Published 10:37 am Thursday, June 21, 2018

Virginia Farm Bureau

Extended amounts of sun exposure can increase the risk of developing skin cancer, especially for those who regularly work outdoors.

“Farmers are at an increased risk of skin cancer since most skin cancers are secondary to sun damage. Skin cancer is actually the number-one type of cancer that we see in farmers,” said Dr. Amy Johnson, who treats farmers in Bedford County. “Typically, skin cancers are found on their nose, tops of their ears and the backs of their necks since these are areas most exposed to the sun.”

Johnson noted the most common skin cancers she treats are Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma. “Melanoma is the worst type of skin cancer and is very aggressive,” Johnson noted. “It will move to other body areas, sometimes very quickly, and can be deadly.”

When working outdoors she urges people to cover sun-exposed areas with light-colored, lightweight long sleeves. “There are clothing items now that are very cool to wear that protect the individual from UVA and UVB rays,” Johnson added.

Light-colored clothing also helps to repel ticks, which can cause tick-borne illnesses, another hazard for those working outside in the summer, particularly in areas close to the woods or in tall grasses, Johnson said.

It’s important also for people working outdoors to wear a wide-brimmed hat that protects the nose, ears and back of the neck, and sunglasses to protect the eyes from sun damage.

Johnson said any sun-exposed areas that can’t be covered should be covered in a water- and sweat-resistant broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen rated SPF 15 or higher. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes prior to going outdoors, and reapplied every two hours or more often with excessive sweating.

“It’s always best to try to avoid working during the heat of the day, if possible, and hydrate well, by drinking water and sports drinks, which will replace electrolytes like sodium and potassium,” Johnson explained. Try to stay in the shade when possible between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

It also is important to remember that when taking certain blood pressure medications, blood thinners or diabetic medications, you can dehydrate faster, Johnson shared. Many medications increase sun sensitivity, increasing the likelihood of burning, even to the point of blistering.

Check skin regularly and note any changes to moles or any new skin lesions that develop.

If a skin lesion increases in size, changes in color, bleeds frequently or is painful or itchy, it should be checked by a medical professional.