Extended days of sunny weather – at just the right temperatures – those are the conditions we welcome so that our crops can grow and thrive.  However, the sun can beat down too hard, too hot or too long. When that affects crops, we are prepared with irrigation, new plant breeds … whatever it takes to protect the harvest.  However, when it comes to the sun beating down on our own heads, arms shoulders… backs… we may not be as conscientious about preventing the damage. The hazards of extended exposure to the sun is one of many side effects of this career called farming and can lead to skin cancer, premature aging of the skin and suppression of the immune system.

“One in five will get skin cancer in their life!”

Every year more than 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in more than 2 million people.  In the US there are over 600,000 cases with 9.000 deaths each year. One person dies from melanoma every hour in the United States.  Anyone can get skin cancer however the incidence among farmers, who spend much of their workday outdoors, is noticeably higher than in the general population, and it is increasing.  In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, outdoor workers experience twice the amount of non-melanoma skin cancers (basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas) compared to those who work indoors. Fortunately, skin cancer is highly curable if found early and can be prevented.

Over Exposure

Sunburns, though a contributing factor, are not the main cause of skin cancer. It is rare that one severe sunburn is attributed with skin cancer.  It is the build up of repeated exposures that result in damaging changes to the skin.  Of course, summer months are more harmful and the midday hours of bright sun most destructive. While those are obvious, it is important to recognize that sunburn is possible during other seasons, on cloudy days and at other times of day.  Even on a cloudy day, 80% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays can pass through the clouds.

Spot Skin Cancer and See a Doctor

It is important to be aware to changes in your skin.  A new growth, mole of discoloration, or a sudden change in an existing mole are signs that you should see a physician. It cannot be overemphasized that early detection is the first step in successful treatment. It could save your life.  Early detection of all types of skin cancers is crucial for successful treatment.  In the case of melanoma, it is critical.  The 5 year mortality rate for whites with melanoma is 85 percent and for blacks it is 70 percent (NCDEHNR).  The earlier the detection, the greater are the chances of survival.

Where to Look

With many farm jobs, requiring working while bent over, the back of the neck and ears are exposed and perhaps not as easily monitored as face, eyes, arms and hands.  It is always best to wear protective clothing, hats, sunscreen and sunglasses.

Hats On!

Farmers should wear wide brimmed hats with a brim of at least 4-inches. Not everyone would choose to wear the bright red wide-brimmed hat that is my “haying” hat.  But those extra inches of shade have made a tremendous difference, not only, in preventing sunburn and heat stroke but also in my comfort while bouncing across the fields in my favorite tractor (of course hubby gets the tractor with the air-conditioned cab). The usual ball caps worn by farmers don’t provide enough coverage for the most vulnerable areas – tops of ears, temples, face and neck.  When my sons were young, they had a summer tradition of shaving their heads.  One year, that coincided with a hatless day in the sun and “crispy bacon” was the description of the painful resulting sunburn.

It’s A Cover Up

What you wear is most important in protecting the skin from ultraviolet rays (UVR). Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants. Tightly woven and light-colored fabric can actually keep the body cooler in the sun and will protect against cancer-causing rays. UV radiation reflects off water, sand, concrete, light-colored surfaces and snow.  Even when wearing a hat, UV radiation will reflect off the surface and can damage the skin.  High-quality sun protective clothing is available, or you can use a sun-protective solution that you can wash into everyday clothing to make it protective.

What’s Your SPF Score?  Are you Choosing or Losing?

Any product that is not “Broad Spectrum,” or has an SPF below 15, must have a warning stating that the product has not been shown to help prevent skin cancer or early skin aging.  New water resistance claims on the front label must indicate whether the sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours.  Apply more often if you are sweating.

You should apply sunscreen every day to exposed skin – and not just if you are going to be in the sun.  UVB rays cannot penetrate glass windows. However, UVA rays can, leaving you prone to damaging effects if unprotected.

You are at Risk! Men are Risking the Most

Those who have a family history of skin cancer, numerous moles or freckles or a history of severe sunburns early in life are at a higher risk of skin cancer as well. To minimize the harmful effects of excessive and unprotected sun exposure, protection from intense UV radiation should be a life-long practice for everyone.  Research has shown that men are less likely than women to protect their skin when outdoors.  Of course, once there is a problem, the protection is more likely.

DO IT NOW! Check your face, ears, hands and arms before reading any further.  What do you see?  Is your physician working with you to monitor changes?  Make an appointment. Now.

Denial Could be Fatal.

It is unfortunate that sunburn or the potential of developing skin cancer are not seen by farmers as something deserving preventive action.  Because it doesn`t (until it`s fatal) affect their ability to farm it doesn`t receive high priority.  Although simply wearing protective clothing and applying, sunscreen could go a long way in preventing future problems, the inconvenience and added heat results in what could be a fatal decision.

“One person every hour dies from melanoma in the United States.”

The good news is that melanoma is highly curable if detected on the skin at an early stage.

UVA exposure also is known to lead to signs of premature aging of the skin, such as wrinkling and age spots. The UVB rays are the sun’s burning rays (which are blocked by window glass) and are the primary cause of sunburn. A good way to remember it is that UVA rays are the aging rays and UVB rays are the burning rays. Excessive exposure to both forms of UV rays can lead to the development of skin cancer.

For Want of a Tan — a Life was Lost

Being well-tanned is often associated with being healthy.  Those who are pale skinned are (sometimes wrongly) assumed to be sickly.  The truth probably lies somewhere in between.  Unfortunately, baking our bodies on the beach or on a tanning bed to achieve just the right “glow” could have very dangerous results. While few farmers spend time in tanning salons, the equally dangerous effects of that movie star tan, although obtained from days of working instead of playing, can be equally harmful.

How Much Sunscreen

The type of sunscreen you use is up to you. Be sure to toss outdated products, as they will lose their effectiveness.  Don’t forget that lips get sunburned, too.  Apply a lip balm that contains sunscreen with an SPF or higher.  When using sunscreen, be sure to apply it to all exposed areas and pay particular attention to the face, ears, hands and arms.  Coat the skin liberally and rub it in thoroughly. Surveys have revealed that most people only apply 25 to 50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen.  One ounce, which is enough to fill the palm of your hand, is considered to be the amount needed to cover the exposed areas of the body properly.

Stay Out of the Noon Day Sun

Although working outdoors when the sun is less intense, before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., may not easy, sometimes rescheduling chores to times when exposure is lessened can be achieved. Finding available shade may be hard, but creating shade where you work with an umbrella or awning is a great idea. You certainly now see more tractors with a canopy to protect the operator from exposure to the elements. Avoid long workdays spent outside in the sun, especially from May-October.  You should also wear wraparound sunglasses that block 100% of both UVA and UBV rays.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Don’t become a statistic.  Skin cancer is preventable.  Keep a weather eye on your exposure at ALL times.  Always be aware of changes to your skin.  When it comes to spots, remember this powerful reminder from the American Academy of Dermatology:  Prevent. Detect. Live.




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