Skin cancer a greater risk in farming than many other careers

Farming may be a healthy occupation in many respects, but not when it comes to skin cancer.

The American Cancer Society estimates as many as 6,000 new cases of skin malignancies will be diagnosed each year. Most are the result of excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

Most skin cancers are related to exposure to the UV radiation in sunlight. But a sunburn can occur on an overcast day just as easily. The damage from ultraviolet rays accumulates over time.

“The people I’m seeing are usually in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s,” said Robert Cathey, a dermatologist in Manhattan. “Some of them have numerous skin cancers and precancerous lesions. I’ve seen as many as 10 on one patient.”

Among his patients is Ross Turner, who has farmed all his life. When Turner reached 54, he had to have treatment each year for eight years for precancerous lesions on his head.

“”I suppose I was one of those guys who thought I’m tough, the sun is not going to bother me,” he said.

Turner finally went to Cathey for treatment because he noticed some scaly places on his head and the backs of his ears that he would pick at. He read they could be precancerous.

The head and neck are the main areas for skin cancers, then the hands and forearms. On women, the upper chest and the lower leg are frequent sites.

Fair skin is a risk factor, but skin cancer is not limited to people with fair skin. The greater the tendency to freckle, the greater the risk, generally speaking.

While most people have moles, few new ones appear in adulthood. New “spots” on the skin in adults are warning signs.

“It can be hard to tell whether a spot is cancerous, and that’s why we do a lot of biopsies, removing the spot and having it checked by a pathologist,” Cathey said.

“It’s a very simple procedure-it takes just a few minutes with anesthesia, like getting a tooth filled,” he added.

Treatment varies. One of the determining factors is how thick the skin cancer is. The longer it is left untreated and the deeper it is, the more aggressive the treatment .

Pre-cancers such as Turner’s can be “treated very easily, with no scarring, no needles, and not a great deal of discomfort,” Cathey said.

Cathey said many farmers and ranchers don’t want to see their family doctor or a specialist for a spot on their skin.

“It’s the persistent spouse that makes them go,” he said. “Some lesions are no reason for concern, but they couldn’t be expected to know that.”

Deanna Munson, K-State Extension clothing textiles specialist, said people can protect themselves from the sun by wearing the proper clothing.

“Methods of protecting yourself include wearing hats that protect temples, tips of ears and the back of your neck and wearing long sleeves, long pants, gloves and high socks or boots,” she said.

Munson also suggested other common-sense ways farmers-and others-can protect themselves:

— Reduce duration of direct exposure.

— Utilize sunscreen products.

— Wear clothing made from fabrics designed to block UV radiation.

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