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Skin in the game

Here comes the sun! Farmers welcome that yellow orb in the spring sky after months of enduring Old Man Winter's stingy dose of daylight hours.

But more than 1.2 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed annually in the U.S. Sun exposure is the leading cause. Farmers recognize that too much sun is unhealthy, but sometimes they fail to put their knowledge into practice.

“Actinic keratosis is a common risk factor,” says Carolyn Sheridan, AgriSafe Network clinical director and Spencer (Iowa) AgriSafe director. “These are flat, scaly growths on the ears, face, and backs of hands that may develop into cancer.”

Other risk factors include:

● Family history of skin cancer.

● Lighter skin, eye, or hair color.

● A history of sunburns early in life.

● Consistent sun exposure.

● Many preexisting moles.

First line of defense

Sunscreens are take-to-the-field tools. Be wary of brands that feature waterproof claims on the front label but make the statement “Rinse with water to remove” on the back label.

An SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 is recommended. Dermatologists estimate that people only apply half the amount of sunscreen needed; a high SPF may help counteract the tendency to under apply.

Many people also don't realize that an SPF rating only measures a sunscreen's protection against ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. A broad spectrum sunscreen that also protects against ultraviolet A (UVA) rays is best. Check for the ingredients avobenzone or mexoyl.

Sunscreen may offer a false sense of security, because people don't apply it 30 minutes before they're in the sun or reapply it every 90 minutes (or more often) if they're sweating or in water.

“We always reinforce the message to reapply,” Sheridan says. “Spray-on sunscreens work well for farmers to reapply, especially if they can't wash their hands.”

Lips, ear tips, and receding hairlines are common sites for precancerous growths. Use lip balm with SPF protection.

Wearing a hat with a 3-inch brim, using sunglasses, and reducing sun exposure trump sole reliance on sunscreen. Recently, new clothing and laundry additive products have been created to protect against the sun.

For instance, the AgriSafe Store sells Rit Sun Guard, a laundry aid that adds 30% SPF. One application protects for 20 washings. Solar Guard shirts feature UV protection and moisture control.

“We've been selling the shirts for five years, and each year we get more requests,” Sheridan says. “Hats are a big item. We see increased farmer use of wide-brimmed hats in the field.”

UVB rays penetrate skin, causing sunburns. But longer length UVA rays penetrate the next layer, the dermis, and cause wrinkles, age spots, and the following three types of skin cancers.

1. Basal cell carcinoma accounts for 80% of all skin cancers. It's typically found on the face, ears, scalp, or upper trunk. Removal is advised, but it rarely will metastasize.

2. Squamous cell carcinoma, often found on the face, ears, and neck, is the second most common skin cancer (16%) in the U.S. Early treatment is needed to avoid its spread.

3. Melanoma is least common but most deadly because it rapidly spreads to lymph nodes and organs. It's on the rise. It often develops in a pre-existing mole or resembles a new mole.

May is National Melanoma Awareness Month. Research at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that cases of scalp and neck melanoma are twice as fatal as on the body's extremities. Caught early, melanoma is treated by surgically removing the cancerous patch of skin.

Learn more

AgriSafe Network 866/312-3002 |

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