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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘Contact your GP if you notice a lump or discoloured patch on the skin’

According to Dr Triona McCarthy, farmers are particularly vulnerable to skin cancer risk due to the length of time they work outdoors and their self-employed work status, where controls and social supports are less readily applicable.

The consultant in public health medicine stated farmers appear to have “a number of misunderstandings” of the dangers of UV sunlight risks and protective measures.

Irish farmers have a three times higher cancer mortality than blue/white-collar workers, with UV sunlight skin cancer being a significant cause of this heightened death rate.

To improve farmers’ knowledge of occupational skin cancer, Teagasc will hold a public Webinar on Wednesday, April 21st, at 11.30 am to 1.00 pm.

All farmers and members of the public can attend the webinar here.

 Speakers at the webinar will include:

  • Kevin O’Hagan, Health Promotion Manager, Irish Cancer Society;
  • Barbara McGrogan, Research Scientist, National Cancer Control Programme;
  • Lynn Swinburne, Senior Health Promotion Officer, National Screening Service;
  • Maria McEnery, Prevention Coordinator, National Cancer Control Programme.

Dr John McNamara, Teagasc Health and Safety Specialist, will chair the webinar.

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He said: “Teagasc research indicates that farmers give health issues, including risks from UV sunlight, lower priority than other health and safety issues.”

CSO figures (2018) suggest that almost one in four (26.6%) of skin cancer deaths in Ireland are to farming, outdoor and construction workers.

This information indicates that one death every week in Ireland is at least partly due to sun exposure at work.

How UV rays impact your skin

Dr Triona McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, explains how UV rays affect your skin:

“As with many cancers, malignant melanoma skin cancer develops when cells are damaged and grow uncontrollably. Exposure to (UV) rays from the sun, even on cloudy days, or from artificial sources like sunbeds is the most common cause of skin cancer.”

If you work outdoors, you are exposed to 2-3 times more UV than someone who works indoors. Therefore, you have a higher risk of developing skin cancer. Exposure to UV damage is irreversible, permanent and cumulative with each exposure.

When the UV index is three and above, you need to protect your skin, even if cloudy. UV is strongest between April and September and between 11 am and 3 pm.

Advice for farmers

Dr McCarthy stated that there is a lot that can be done to reduce sun cancer risk. “Review your UV exposure – how long are you outside for during the day and how many days of the week?”

“Use protective clothing that covers your exposed skin, including long-sleeved, collared shirts, broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses.”

“To help protect your skin additionally use broad-spectrum, water-resistant Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30+ and apply every two hours “.

Dr McCarthy emphasises that checking your skin regularly for changes is important to prevent skin cancer development.

“Contact your GP if you notice a lump or discoloured patch on the skin. Look out for new growth, or a sore that does not heal in a few weeks, a spot or sore that itches, hurts, crusts, scabs or bleeds, constant skin ulcers with no other explanation for their cause and new or changing moles”.

“A key message we need to get across to farmers and outdoor workers is that UV sunlight is dangerous, but adopting protective measures leads to long term risk reduction”.

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