Skin cancer risk for farmers put in the spotlight

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Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in Northern Ireland, with around 3,780 cases every year.

With this in mind The Public Health Agency (PHA) and Cancer Focus Northern Ireland have joined forces to remind outdoor workers to protect their skin from sun damage.

Farmers, gardeners, builders, grounds staff and postal workers are just some of the people at higher risk of sun damage due to the length of time they spend working outdoors.

Dr Miriam McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health at the PHA, explained: “Everyone needs to be aware that the sun can cause permanent damage to your skin and certain groups, such as people who spend a significant amount of time working outdoors, are particularly at risk.

“Despite our unpredictable weather, we are still exposed to significant levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, even on cloudy or cooler, breezy days. The majority of the population have fair skin, which provides little natural protection against the sun, so even a small amount of exposure can do damage. The damage caused by UV rays from the sun can accumulate over time and may lead to skin cancer.”

UFU President Barclay Bell said: “Farmers rely on the weather conditions and often spend long hours working outdoors. We might think our skin is tough and a farmer’s tan is just part of the job but the consequences of overexposure to the sun can be serious. Everyone who works outside needs to think about sun protection to reduce the risk of skin damage and skin cancer.”

Marbeth Ferguson, Skin Cancer Prevention Coordinator at Cancer Focus NI, said: “Early detection of skin cancer is vital, so it is especially important for people who work outdoors to check their skin regularly for any unusual moles or spots. If you notice any changes to a mole or patch of normal skin, tell your doctor, who may refer you for further assessment or treatment.”

There are a number of steps that will protect against the sun’s harmful rays when working outdoors:

Wear a long-sleeved top, sunglasses and a hat with a brim or flap that protects the ears and neck.

On exposed skin use sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 for UVB protection, and 4 star for UVA protection. Extra care and a higher SPF factor may be needed if you have paler or freckled skin. Apply liberally 30 minutes before going out in the sun and re-apply at least every two hours

Be sure to cover areas which are sometimes missed, such as the lips, ears, around the eyes, neck, scalp, lower back and backs of hands

Where possible take breaks in the shade especially when the sun is at its strongest – generally 11am to 3pm

For further information on sun safety when working outdoors see If you are concerned about skin cancer you can also call the Cancer Focus NI free information and support helpline on 0800 783 3339 or email one of the charity’s nurses on