Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

590 Woody Hayes Dr., Columbus, Ohio 43210

Skin Cancer: Are You At Risk?


Thomas L. Bean
Sereana Howard Dresbach
Julia A. Nolan

Since farmers spend long days outside in the sun's harmful rays, they are at risk for having some form of skin cancer during their lifetime. A health screening at a 1991 farm event in Wisconsin showed that nearly 25% of 780 people checked had some form of precancerous skin disorder.

While cancer is over 100 different diseases, some types of cancer have identified contributors. Overexposure to the sun is the principle cause of skin cancer. However, skin cancer can be treated if caught early. Skin cancer is defined as a disease in which cancer cells are found in the outer layers of the skin. There are three types of skin cancer: Squamous and basal cell cancers have a survival rate of 95% if found early and treated properly. There are many early warning signs of these types of cancer.

Some examples are:

The third type of skin cancer, melanoma, can appear suddenly and is a very aggressive type of cancer. This is why early detection is essential. Melanoma is a cancer of the pigment cells, appearing to be varied shades of tan, brown, or black. The following chart shows melanoma danger signs.

Remember, not all changes in your skin are cancer, but you should consult your physician if you are suspicious of changes in your skin.

Who's at Risk?

Anyone who is exposed to sunlight is at risk for skin cancer. However, people with the following characteristics have the highest risk for melanoma:

Asymmetry--one half unlike the other half.

Border irregular--scalloped or poorly circumscribe border.

Color varied--from one area to another; shades of tan and brown; black; sometimes white, red or blue.

Diameter larger--than 6 mm as a rule (diameter of a pencil eraser).

Sun Safety Tips

UV Index

The UV Index, developed by the National Weather Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, provides a forecast of the expected risk of overexposure to the sun and indicates the degree of caution you should take when working, playing or exercising outdoors. The UV Index predicts exposure on a 0 to 10+ scale. (Zero is low risk and 10+ is very high risk.)

The UV Index is calculated on a next day basis for dozens of cities across the country by the National Weather Service. If you have access to this index, you may want to regularly check the index.

Don't forget the children!

Skin cancer is not caused by just a single burn or tan, rather it is the accumulation of skin damage over many years of sun exposure. Recent research suggest that over exposure as children may be contributing factors of skin cancer as adults. Studies estimate regular use of sunscreen during the first 18 years of life can reduce a person's chance of nonmelanoma skin cancer by 78%. This is why it is important to start teaching children good sun protection habits at a young age, while at the same time protecting their skin from potentially damaging sun rays. The following list provides some general guidelines for sun protection for children.

Skin Cancer Facts:


An Intro to Skin Cancer. available: http://ww.maui.net/~southsky/introto.html

Skin Cancer--An Undeclared Epidemic. available: http://www.derm-infonet.com/skinca.html

Skin Savvy. (1996, May 3). USA Today.

Sun Sense: What you need to know about skin cancer, Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Research Institute, Ohio State University.

For Every Child Under the Sun, from the Skin Cancer Foundation and American Academy of Pediatrics.

Skin Self-Examination: It is a good habit to perform frequent self-examinations for skin cancer. As with other good health practice, this self exam should start at 18-20 years of age. An efficient means of doing this is described in the following five steps.

Examine your body front and back in the mirror, then right and left sides with arms raised.
Bend elbows and look carefully at forearms, upper underarms and palms.

Look at the backs of your legs and feet, the spaces between your toes and on the sole.
Examine the backs of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror. Part hair for a closer look.
Finally, check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror.

As recommended by the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society.

Reviewed by: Chris Eicher, Extension Associate, Ohio State University Extension and S. Dee Jepsen, Extension Associate, Ohio State University Extension

Revised by Rebecca Maenle, FCS Intern, and Doris I. Herringshaw, Extension Educator, March 2007.

Ohio State University Extension embraces human diversity and is committed to ensuring that all educational programs conducted by OSU Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, age, gender identity or expression, disability, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Agricultural Administration and Director, Ohio State University Extension

TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181

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