Melanoma Trust

In Memory of Sharon Rice O’Beirne


Don’t reap all the sun’s effects

Sun experts are bringing their sun smart message to a livestock mart on Thursday in an attempt to curb rising cancer rates, writes Marese McDonagh

Sunblock and shades may be the last thing you would expect to find in a farmer’s tractor cab but health officials in the northwest are hoping to change all that.

This Thursday experts from Sligo General Hospital (SGH), armed with lots of good advice and a selection of sun screens, will bring their “sun smart” message to a busy livestock mart in the county, in a bid to curb rising skin cancer rates.

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers accounting for one-third of all new cancer diagnosis and staff in the dermatology department at SGH have reported a rise in new cases in recent years with farmers and other outdoor workers particularly vulnerable.

Although farmers don’t tend to chase the rays the way some sun worshippers in search of a glow do, experts believe that even the so-called “farmer’s tan” is unsafe. Tell-tale spots and moles on the hands, arms and above the collar often suggest a lifetime of failing to take precautions during the hottest part of the day.

Tom Jordan, manager of the Connacht Gold mart in Ballymote, says that up to 500 farmers and other visitors, many of whom would never consult a doctor, will have an opportunity to meet medical experts on Thursday morning.

“Over the years I have seen a lot of farmers with spots on their faces or hands who would never go near a doctor,” says Jordan. “I think many of them are afraid of what they may learn – what they don’t know does not bother them. Unfortunately, some of them let it go too far.”

Jordan, whose own father died of cancer just weeks ago, was very enthusiastic when the health promotion unit at SGH suggested taking their message to the mart. “Elderly people, especially men living on their own, are often reluctant to go near a hospital or a doctor until something is seriously wrong,” he says. “Farmers whose spouse has died or who never married have no one to prompt them to get medical advice and some leave it until it is too late.”

According to the National Cancer Registry there are more than 5,000 cases of skin cancer diagnosed in Ireland every year, over 400 of which are malignant melanoma – the least common but most dangerous type of skin cancer.

The number of non-melanoma skin cancers in counties Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal rose from 245 in 2000 to 353 in 2007. The figure for melanomas in the northwest actually dropped slightly from 26 to 25 in the same period.

Preliminary evidence suggests that farmers are almost three times more likely to develop skin cancer on their lips because of their exposure to the sun. What many people don’t realise is that damage to the skin is permanent and accumulates over the years so that bad burns received in childhood can manifest themselves 20 or 30 years later as skin cancer.

Dolores Kivlehan, health promotion co-ordinator at SGH, says farmers often don’t think about how thinning hair and failure to wear a cap or hat can cause bad burns to their scalp and ears even when the sun is behind a cloud.

She also urges farmers to wear sunglasses as the sun can cause burns behind the retina.

“This won’t be a problem for younger farmers and I think older men should get over any inhibitions they may have,” Kivlehan says.

“You see them out on the bog or the meadow without even a hat,” says Tom Jordan.

“One day they are white and the next day they are scorched. Years ago there was no talk about sun creams but I think maybe the message is starting to get through.”

Selene Farrell, dermatology nurse specialist who will be at the mart on Thursday morning to advise farmers, also thinks they should get over any inhibitions they may have about rubbing on sun cream or wearing shades.

“Habits need to change and we would urge farmers to have a few sun blocks so that they can throw one into the tractor cab and have one on the kitchen window sill. If they are working in direct sunlight, they need to put it on every two hours.”

While many older farmers might baulk at the idea of sporting wraparound shades and a wide-brimmed hat while out at the silage, Selene points out that a change in mindset was achieved as far as smoking and drink-driving are concerned and a cultural shift is now needed in this area.

“It has happened already in countries like Australia where letting your child get sunburnt is almost seen as child abuse.”

On Thursday she will be urging visitors to the mart to take a few simple precautions in the sun such as wearing sleeves and high collars and a wide-brimmed hat to protect the ears, nose and back of the neck.

Sunglasses, a lip balm with a high SPF and a high protection sunscreen which should be regularly re-applied are also part of the recommended ammunition against sunburn.

Farmers are also being advised where possible to avoid the midday sun (from 11am to 3pm), by spending time in the open fields earlier or later in the day.

Farrell points out that young children also play an active role in farm life, particularly during the summer holidays and should be protected. The Irish Cancer Society estimates that most people get 80 per cent of their lifetime exposure to the sun in their youth and only 20 per cent as an adult.

Farmers are not the only group being targeted and a second Sun Awareness Day will take place on Friday, May 1st, from 2pm to 5pm in the Quayside Shopping Centre in Sligo.

According to the Irish Cancer Society, one in every eight men and one in 10 women will develop skin cancer by the age of 75 years and the National Cancer Registry has predicted that the incidence of malignant melanomas will increase by 65 per cent over the next 10 years.

This is partly based on the sharp rise in the number of people taking foreign holidays at regular intervals, a trend that may now be stalled, at least for a few years, as families are forced to tighten their purse strings.

Experts are also hoping that as the sun smart message gets through, that tanned skin may become less fashionable.

Two-thirds of Irish people have fair skin putting them at high risk of developing skin cancer but medical staff know that many – including farmers – will be more convinced by the warnings that excessive sun exposure also causes premature skin ageing.

Original Source : Marese McDonagh | The Irish Times | 28th April 2009.

Filed under : What the Papers Say
By The Irish Times
On 28 April, 2009
At 10:00 am
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March 28th, 2013 at 9:51 am

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