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Research Findings

Dermatologists Warn Farmers to Pay Special Attention to Suspicious Moles

Dermatologists Warn Farmers to Pay Special Attention to Suspicious Moles

Farmers face an increased risk of skin cancer, which can be deadly

Farming has its share of occupational hazards, but one that may be underestimated is the danger of overexposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Dermatologists say more is at risk than developing a “farmer’s tan;” excessive exposure to UV radiation puts farmers at an increased risk of skin cancer, which can be deadly.

“More than 11,000 Americans die each year from skin cancer, but when detected early, skin cancer has a cure rate of 99 percent,” said dermatologist David M. Pariser, MD, FAAD, president of the American Academy of Dermatology. “Since research shows farmers are among the least likely workers to receive a skin examination by a physician, it’s important that farmers perform regular skin self-examinations, which could mean the difference between life and death.”

Performing a skin self-examination consists of regularly looking over the entire body, including the back, scalp, soles of the feet, between the toes and on the palms of the hands. To do a thorough exam, it is important to use both full-length and hand-held mirrors, so it is possible to see the back of the head, back and buttocks.

People are advised to use the ABCDEs of Melanoma Detection to determine if a mole or skin lesion should be brought to the attention of a dermatologist. Characteristics of moles for which individuals should check their skin are: Asymmetry (one half unlike the other half), Border (irregular, scalloped or poorly defined), Color (varies from one area to another; shades of tan and brown, black; sometimes white, red or blue), Diameter (the size of a pencil eraser or larger), and Evolving (changing in size, shape or color). A mole with any of these characteristics, or one that is an “ugly duckling”, meaning it looks different from the rest, should be brought to a dermatologist’s attention.

To assist with skin self-examinations, the Academy has created a free, downloadable Body Mole Map, which provides information on how to perform a skin exam, images of the ABCDEs of melanoma and space for people to track their moles to determine any changes over time. The mole map is available at

“Since skin cancer is the only cancer you can see on the surface of your skin, people who check their skin regularly for any suspicious moles are taking an important step in detecting skin cancer in its earliest stages,” said dermatologist David M. Pariser, MD, FAAD, president of the Academy. “Make a skin self-exam more effective by asking a partner to monitor your skin for any changes or to assist in examining hard-to-reach areas.”

To minimize your risk of skin cancer, the Academy recommends that everyone Be Sun Smart :

  • Before heading out to the field or pasture, generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 to all exposed skin. The term broad-spectrum means that the sunscreen provides protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Re-apply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, where possible.
  • Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade. Make sure your tractor has a sun umbrella.
  • Protect children from sun exposure by playing in the shade, using protective clothing, and applying sunscreen.
  • Use extra caution near water, snow and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun which can increase your chance of sunburn.
  • Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements. Don’t seek the sun.
  • Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look like you’ve been in the sun, consider using a sunless self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.
  • Check your birthday suit after harvest. If you notice anything changing, growing, or bleeding on your skin, see a dermatologist. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early.



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