Midday sun damaging to farmers, ranchers
September 23, 2013
Kathryn Stensgard encourages farmers and ranchers to take on an extra chore every morning: applying sunscreen. Stensgard, a Doctor of Nursing Practice who grew up on a North Dakota farm, says most farmers and ranchers are just unaware of how easily they can prevent skin cancer with that one simple step.
"Six members of my father's family developed either skin cancer or precancerous lesions," Stensgard says. "Daily use of sunscreen would have at least reduced the degree of damage. About 40 percent of all cancers are skin cancers. They're the easiest to prevent. If detected early, they're easiest to treat as well."
Farmers and ranchers are at an increased risk of skin cancer because of the time they spend outside. Research shows they are also less likely to use sunscreen and rural populations are typically diagnosed with advanced stages of skin cancer.
Nearly all skin cancers can be prevented by limiting unprotected exposure to the sun. The most common skin cancers are melanoma and non-melanoma. Men are more likely to develop both types of skin cancer than women. As people age, the rate of skin cancers increase.
"If one or more of your relatives has been diagnosed with skin cancer, your risk of developing skin cancer is much higher," Stensgard says. "Those with excessive exposure to sunlight – which includes farmers and ranchers – are at greater risk for developing skin cancer. Anyone with a history of severe, blistering sunburns also has an increased risk of developing skin cancer."
In conducting her research, Stensgard learned that individuals under the age of 20, who experience one blistering sunburn, are twice as likely to develop skin cancer later in life. Individuals who experience three blistering sunburns are five times more likely to have skin cancer. In polls conducted by the U.S. Skin Cancer Foundation, participants indicate that they experience sunburn at least once every year.
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"Often, people believe that applying a healing agent such as aloe takes care of any sunburn issues," Stensgard says. "In reality, the sunburn has done serious damage to their skin. Even in winter or on cloudy days, the sun can damage our skin."
On average, nearly 40 percent of the population neglects any kind of use of sunscreen. Those who do use sunscreen often aren't aware what products are most effective or how to apply them to achieve the best protection from the sun's rays.
"During my study I found that individuals who are related to someone who developed skin cancer are much more likely to use sunscreen," Stensgard says. "During my research and education with patients, when I discuss sunscreen use and other ways to avoid skin cancer, I find that many patients have never talked to a physician about preventing skin cancer, how to use sunscreen or what kinds of products provide adequate protection."
Stensgard believes a lack of understanding the importance of skin protection coupled with confusion about which sunscreen products to use and how to use them are among the barriers rural residents face regarding skin protection.
"My passion for helping people understand how easy it is to protect themselves from serious skin cancer problems stems from my own family's experience," she says. "The incidence of melanoma has tripled in the last 20 years. Melanoma is responsible for 75 percent of deaths due to skin cancer. Use of sunscreen is all it takes to prevent that from happening."
Every hour one American dies from melanoma, which is very difficult to treat once it spreads to other parts of the body. Melanoma tumors are generally brown or black due to increased melanin production. In women, melanoma tumors occur most frequently from the waist down. In men, melanoma is most commonly found from the waist up. Treatment includes surgical removal of primary tumors and surrounding tissues. In advanced cases, chemotherapy and radiation may be used.
Melanomas are typically slow-growing and rarely spread beyond their original location. In general, melanomas appear as open sores, red patches, a shiny bump, pink growth or a scar-like area. Early treatment generally involves surgical excision, freezing or electrodessication.
"If melanoma isn't treated it can cause serious damage. I wouldn't be aware of all the facts either if I hadn't done the research," Stensgard says.
As a routine practice, Stensgard will explain the significance of skin protection and use of sunscreen with all patients. When she has opportunity, she explains the significance of skin protection and use of sunscreen.
"My surveys revealed that 74 percent of people who use sunscreen never received any instruction about its use," Stensgard says. "Another finding has been that 95 percent of people have a much better understanding of skin cancer and sun protection measures following a discussion about it. In my practice, it's important to me to have that kind of positive impact on skin cancer prevention."
Stensgard notes that any sunscreen with SPF greater than 30 has some benefits, however SPF 30 is the minimal SPF that should be used.
"You can use products with higher SPF," she says. "But beyond SPF 30 there isn't a greater benefit. It's important to reapply the sunscreen if you're sweating a lot or in the water. Pay special attention to face areas not covered by clothing. Many people are unwilling to give up their baseball cap for a wide-brimmed cover. However, using the baseball cap exposes ears and the side of the temple to sun damage.
"Anyone who is concerned about the possibility of melanoma should see a dermatologist right away," Stensgard adds. "Being informed about skin cancer and its prevention is helpful to everyone."