Savannah Valley District

Sun Safety: May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Marion Barnes, Senior County Extension Agent, Colleton and Hampton Counties

Agriculture relies on sunshine for growing and harvesting crops, rising healthy livestock, and providing adequate work conditions. However, the sun may be one of the biggest health hazards farmers faces. To get their jobs done, farmers and agricultural workers spend enormous amounts of time in the sun. Other risk factors that contribute to the likelihood of developing skin cancer include, the time of day they are in the sun, limited use of protective clothing, unwillingness to use sunscreen, and their reluctance to wear wide-brimmed hats. 

May is skin cancer awareness month. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in America with over 5 million cases a year. Data indicates that I in 5 Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime. No one is immune to the sun’s ultraviolet rays (UV) and farmers should be especially cautious about their exposure. The two types of ultraviolet rays most likely to damage a person’s skin and increase the risk of developing skin cancer are Ultraviolet A (UAV) and Ultraviolet B (UBV). Damage to the skin, our bodies largest organ builds over the years, and once damage has occurred, it cannot be reversed.

The three most common types of skin cancer are basal, squamous and melanoma. Basal and squamous cancers are typically associated with long-term sun exposure but are seldom fatal if treated in a timely manner. Melanoma can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated early and can affect people of all ages.

The following recommendations can reduce an agricultural worker’s risk of sun exposure, skin cancer and other sun-induced conditions:

  • Sun Intensity – Exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays is most intense between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. When possible, avoid working in direct sunlight during these times. If you must be in the sun during these hours, take shade breaks to reduce exposure, drink plenty of water to keep hydrated, and reapply sunscreen at least every two hours.
  • Sunscreen – Sunscreens have one or more chemicals that absorb or disperse ultraviolet rays. Sun protection factor (SPF) is a numerical rating that indicates a specific amount of protection. It is recommended that one should wear a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 or higher for those at high risk (with fair skin, more sun exposure). Due to exposure to water, weather, and perspiration, you should reapply sunscreen at least every two hours. Your doctor or dermatologist can suggest the most appropriate SPF rated sunscreen for your situation.
  • Began a habit of skin self-exams – regularly checking your skin can help catch skin cancer early when its highly treatable.   
  • Clothing – Long-sleeved shirts and long pants provide protection from the sun’s rays. Darker clothing with a tight weave provides more protection from the sun than light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Special SPF or UV-resistant clothing is available to reduce exposing your skin to the UV rays. As a note of caution, dark colored clothing absorbs and holds heat more readily than light colored clothing so be mindful of heat stress issues.
  • Hats – Not all hats are created equal when it comes to sun protection. You should wear a wide-brimmed (minimum of three inches wide) hat with flaps or drapes to provide sun protection for your eyes, ears, and neck. “Baseball style” caps, so popular with many farmers offer little protection from the sun’s harmful rays.
  • Sunglasses – Wear sunglasses with UV protection to reduce risk of eye damage from the sun. Select UV-blocking sunglasses (both UVA and UVB) that indicate “UV absorption” or “meets ANSI UV requirements.”  Long term exposure of your eyes to the sun may increase chances of developing cataracts, pterygium (thickening of the outer coating of the eye) and possibly macular degeneration.
  • Medications – Check both your prescription and over-the-counter medications concerning whether the medication creates sensitivity to sunlight and discuss options with your physician.
  • See a dermatologist – Schedule regular health wellness checkups for skin cancer and other sun exposure related health issues. 

We all know there is not a lot of farmers and agricultural workers can do to avoid working during the most intensive periods of sunlight during their workday. However, there are other measures that can be taken to reduce exposure to the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays including, wearing sunglasses, wearing protective clothing (long- sleeved shirts & long pants) and regularly applying sunscreen. So, take some advice from someone who has spent a good portion of their life in the sun. A little preventive action now is a lot better than dealing with skin cancer later.

Information for this article was taken in part from Sun Exposure and Agriculture (Source: Extension).  

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