The Northern Trust Farm Family Health Checks Programme, along with Rural Support, is urging agricultural workers to protect themselves against skin cancer.
Over the last 40 years skin cancer rates have trebled, and in 2018 just over 4500 people in Northern Ireland were diagnosed with a skin cancer. It is now the most common cancer diagnosed in Northern Ireland with a large proportion of this attributed to over-exposure to UV rays from the sun.
Christina Faulkner, The Farm Families Health Checks Programme Co-ordinator with the Northern Trust, explained: “Over the last 8 years only 28% of the outdoor workers we have seen, who are mostly farmers, use any form of UV protection. We are keen to make this target audience aware of their specific risk and to understand how they can protect themselves to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer in future years. This is part of the ‘Protect The Asset That Is You’ Campaign which aims to make farmers aware of how important their health is and to work proactively to protect it.”
Lynsey Atkinson, Macmillan Nurse Specialist for skin cancer in the Northern Trust, advised: “Within our service we find a lot of people diagnosed with a skin cancer are from a farming background, and that is mostly due to UV exposure accumulated whilst outdoors and often no protection measures put in place.
Many skin cancers are preventable and it is so important to get the message out there about protecting our skin from over-exposure to UV rays. I am very aware that livelihoods depend on outdoor working, even more so in good weather but if people are aware of the risks of skin cancer, and how to protect their skin, it could reduce the risk of developing a potentially life-threating or disfiguring condition”
Lynsey gave advice on some of the simple steps that can be taken to reduce this risk:
Putting on sun cream – Even in Northern Ireland on grey dull days UV rays can still penetrate the skin, so it is important to get sun cream on, factor 30 is usually sufficient, and preferably one with a 4 or 5* UVA rating. It is important this is reapplied during the day, and remember areas such as the ears, scalp, back of hands, around the eyes and lips.
Farmers should also be aware that UV rays can damage the skin even through glass when in the cab of a tractor or digger.
Wear sunglasses – To protect the eyes
Wear a wide brim hat – To cover the ears and back of the neck.
Skin cancer can affect anyone at any age but is more common if you are over the age of 50 or have spent a lot of time in the sun for work or leisure.
Veronica Morris, CEO of Rural Support commented, “As you know weather in this part of the world isn’t exactly tropical. However, it is important to heed the advice of the experts and take care in the sun. Rural Support welcomes the opportunity to highlight the importance of our farmers protecting their most important assets – themselves.”
You are also at higher risk if you have a history of sunburn, more than 50 moles, have a close family member who has had skin cancer or if you have reduced immunity. People with very fair skin and red or fair hair need to take particular care
Whilst a large proportion of the population mistakenly believe they are Type 3 skin which usually tans, the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland are actually either Type 1 or 2. These types have limited ability to protect their skin from UV exposure and are more at risk of developing a skin cancer. The importance of UV protection is therefore critical.
It is also important to remember the importance of early detection, as with all cancers. If diagnosed early most skin cancers can be very successfully treated. It is important to check your skin regularly, usually once a month, Don’t forget to check the soles of your feet, your scalp, between your toes, neck and nails as skin cancer can develop even on an area not exposed to the sun.
Know your skin and what is normal for you. As well as changes to an existing mole, other skin changes to look out for include:
A new mole, growth or sore such as a rough, scaly patch of skin, a lump, or ulcer that is
Red around the edges
Itchy or sore
Changing in any way
Doesn’t heal in 3-4 weeks
If you do notice any of these it is very important you attend your GP for assessment.
Treatment for skin cancers are often more straightforward when they are diagnosed in the early stages. Don’t ignore it, hoping it will go away.
Prevention is better than cure but early detection is the next best thing and will help to protect the most important asset your farm has – you.
For further information on skin cancer visit www.careinthesun.org.