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Last Updated: Friday, 12 May 2006, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
Farmers warned over skin cancer
Skin cancer dangers faced by farmers have been highlighted at the Balmoral Show in Northern Ireland. Trevor Ramsey, recruited as a "rookie reporter" at the show, told our BBC News and Sport on Tour team how effectively the message is getting through.

Skin scanner
The skin scanner is being taken to chemists around Northern Ireland

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Northern Ireland, and outdoor workers are exposed to up to 400% greater levels than office workers of the ultraviolet radiation that causes most skin cancers.

But this message is largely unknown or ignored by the farming population, despite the increased risk to them, says Ulster Cancer Foundation.

Stefan Smyth, 60, a farmer for more than 40 years in Holywood, County Down, said he had rarely considered the dangers.

CARE IN THE SUN ADVICE
Cover up
Wear a wide-brimmed hat, lip block and loose fitting, tightly woven clothing
Seek shade
Especially during the hottest part of the day between 11am and 3pm
Use sunscreen
SPF 15 or above, apply 30 minutes before going outside, reapply every two hours - even on cloudy days

"I might occasionally slap a bit of sun cream on my head when it got a bit sore, or maybe wear a cap," he said.

"Years ago it was never mentioned - nobody even thought about it."

Young farm workers seem equally unconcerned about protecting their skin from sun damage.

Stephen McElnay, from Bushmills, and Mark Kelly, from Dungannon, both 21, freely admitted they would wear sunscreen if they went somewhere hot on holiday, but not when working outdoors.

"I wouldn't think about it. I'd just see a hot day as a good day to get a lot of work done," said Mr McElnay.

'Personalising the message'

The Ulster Cancer Foundation (UCF), Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) and Gordons Chemists have launched the Care in the Sun campaign targeting outdoor workers.

Sandra Gordon
Sandra Gordon believes men are particularly affected

They have taken a skin scanner to the Balmoral Show, in Belfast's Kings Hall, which shows damage on people's faces caused by over-exposure to the sun.

"It's very effective in personalising the message and showing sun damage on each individual's face," said Sandra Gordon, UCF melanoma strategy co-ordinator.

The campaigners found that of 400 people who used the scanner over the show's three days, 102 women and 104 men never used sunscreen, while 150 women and only 50 men did apply such protection.

Stephen McElnay
Stephen McElnay would wear sun block - while he was on holiday
"Men and outdoor workers are very resistant to health messages. They go later to the doctor, they present with much more advanced cancers, and a higher percentage of them die," said Mrs Gordon.

"There is that male, macho image that farm workers are hardy. That little spot that appears isn't going to be treated as it should be."

UFU communications director Joe McDonald said there was also a "degree of complacency" that the weather in the country was not good enough to present a health risk.

"We have got to get this message to the forefront - it's a serious health risk if people are over-exposed to the sun."

Stefan Smyth
Stefan Smyth wears a cap to protect him from the sun

There are about 2,500 new cases of skin cancer in Northern Ireland each year. About 200 of these are malignant melanoma, which kills 30 people a year.

But research has suggested rates of malignant melanoma, the disease's most dangerous form, could treble in Northern Ireland over the next 30 years, say the campaigners.

Mrs Gordon said that predominant in Northern Ireland was a skin type that is pale, freckly, does not tan - and is at increased risk of sun damage.

"But because we are sort of sun-starved most of the year, when the sun appears we tend to strip off.

"People don't realise they can get skin cancer in Northern Ireland as quickly as they can get skin cancer abroad."

Care in the Sun is touring its skin scanner round Gordons Chemists branches across Northern Ireland in July and August.




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