The age old term “farmer’s tan” also applies to ranchers. Skin cancer is a real risk for ranchers, since they spend the majority of their time outside and don’t always remember to wear sunscreen.

Scherer robyn
Freelance Writer
Robyn Scherer-Carlson is a freelance writer based in Colorado.

Risks for skin cancer

According to the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, “This year alone, the American Cancer Society estimates there will be more than 73,870 new cases of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, and more than 2 million new cases of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers in the U.S.”

More people have been diagnosed with skin cancer in the last 30 years than all other cancers combined, and it costs $8.1 billion each year to treat, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Ranchers are at a greater risk for skin cancer than many other professions, as ranchers spent the majority of their time outside. Even one sunburn can increase the chance of skin cancer later in life.

“Half of all adults aged 18-29 report at least one sunburn in the past 12 months. Sustaining five or more sunburns in youth increases lifetime melanoma risk by 80 percent,” according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.


Types of skin cancer

There are three primary types of skin cancer, and each varies in seriousness.

The most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma (BCC), with an estimated 2.8 million people diagnosed each year. It can be disfiguring, but is rarely fatal.

“BCCs often look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps or scars, and are usually caused by a combination of cumulative and intense, occasional sun exposure,” according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is another type of skin cancer. Sometimes this starts out as actinic keratoses, which is a scaly or crusty growth.

“Although the vast majority of actinic keratoses remain benign, some studies report that up to 10 percent may advance to squamous cell carcinoma,” according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

SCC is the second most common type of skin cancer, and roughly 700,000 are diagnosed with it each year. It is estimated that 2 percent of patients with SCC die from the disease.

Melanoma is the most deadly type of skin cancer, and although it accounts for only 2 percent of cases, it has the highest death rate. It is estimated that one person dies every hour from melanoma, and an estimated 9,940 people in 2015.

“An estimated 73,870 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2015. About 86 percent of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun,” according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

“If melanoma is recognized and treated early, it is almost always curable, but if it is not, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal.”

Finding skin cancer

Detecting skin cancer early makes a huge difference in the ability to treat it. Ranchers should perform self-exams on a regular basis. Any bumps, moles or off-looking spots should be checked out by a doctor.

“If you see something that looks like skin cancer, make an appointment to see a dermatologist. The earlier skin cancer is caught and treated, the more likely it can be cured,” according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

How to prevent skin cancer

Protection is the key to preventing skin cancer, and there are several ways that ranchers can protect themselves from the sun’s damaging rays.

“Everyone, regardless of age or profession, needs to protect themselves from the sun’s rays. Many times it is an afterthought to wear sun protection with a large brim hat, sunglasses and sunscreen,” says Katelyn Andersen, Montana State University Extension agent.

The first line of defense is to use sunscreen, every single day. Every bottle of sunscreen is marked with SPF, which stands for sun protective factor. There are three classifications: high (30-plus), moderate (12-29) and minimal (2-11).

“The sun protection factor (SPF) displayed on the sunscreen label ranges from 2 to as high as 50 and refers to the product's ability to screen or block out the sun's harmful rays. For example, if you use a sunscreen with an SPF 15, you can be in the sun 15 times longer than you can without sunscreen before burning,” according to the American Melanoma Foundation.

“Consumers need to be aware that SPF protection does not increase proportionally with an increased SPF number. While an SPF of 2 will absorb 50 percent of ultraviolet radiation, an SPF of 15 absorbs 93 percent and an SPF of 34 absorbs 97 percent.”

If working outside, ranchers should use a water-resistant or waterproof sunscreen. Water-resistant sunscreen should be reapplied every 40 minutes, and waterproof sunscreen every 80, according to the FDA.

“Regular daily use of an SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 40 percent and the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent,” according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. “People who use sunscreen daily show 24 percent less skin aging than those who do not use sunscreen daily.”

The next step is to wear long sleeves if possible. Long sleeves will cover skin all day, protecting your skin from the sun even after sunscreen wears off. Lightweight shirts can help ranchers stay cool as well.

Wearing a hat is also important. A baseball cap is not sufficient, so a wide-brimmed hat, such as a cowboy hat, should be worn instead. A hat should protect the top of the head, the ears, much of the face and the neck, which are all areas that see the most sun.

Straw cowboy hats with holes in the top can be deceiving and can lead to sunburn on the head, especially on ranchers who may no longer have a full head of hair.

Sunglasses should also be worn, as it protects the eyes from the rays as well. Lip balm with SPF is also important.

If possible, ranchers should stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., which is when the sun’s rays are the strongest.

Ranchers should take their skin seriously and take the necessary steps to prevent skin cancer. Their livelihood depends on it.  end mark