BEDFORD, VA—Extended amounts of sun exposure to those who work outdoors can increase their risk of developing skin cancer.
“Farmers and others who work outdoors are at an increased risk of skin cancer since most skin cancers are secondary to sun damage,” said Dr. Amy Johnson, a family nurse practitioner for Centra Medical Group in Bedford County and president of Bedford County Farm Bureau. “Skin cancer is actually the No. 1 type of cancer that we see in farmers. Typically, skin cancers are found on the nose, tops of the ears and the back of the neck since these are areas most exposed to the sun.”
Johnson said the most common skin cancers she treats are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. “Melanoma is very aggressive,” she noted. “It will move to other body areas, sometimes very quickly, and can be deadly.”
She said people working outdoors should cover sun-exposed areas with light-colored, lightweight long sleeves. “There are clothing items now that can make you feel cooler outdoors and protect from UVA and UVB rays,” Johnson added.
Light-colored clothing also helps repel ticks, whose bites can transmit serious illnesses. Tick bites are another hazard for people who work outside in the summer, particularly in the woods or in tall grasses.
It’s also important to wear a wide-brimmed hat that protects the nose, ears and back of the neck, and sunglasses to protect the eyes from sun damage.
Johnson said any sun-exposed areas that can’t be covered with clothing should be covered in a water- and sweat-resistant broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen rated SPF 15 or higher. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes prior to going outdoors, and reapplied every two hours or more often with excessive sweating.
Avoid working during the hottest parts of the day, and always hydrate well. “Drink plenty of water or sports drinks, which will replace electrolytes like sodium and potassium,” Johnson explained. Stay in the shade if possible between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
When taking certain blood pressure medications, blood thinners or diabetic medications, you can dehydrate faster, Johnson shared. Many medications increase sun sensitivity, increasing the likelihood of burning.
Check skin regularly, and note any changes to moles or any new skin lesions that develop, she suggested. If a lesion increases in size, changes color, bleeds frequently or is painful or itchy, it should be checked by a medical professional.