Farmers at risk of 'most common yet preventable' cancer

A new parliamentary report says there is an urgent need to protect outdoor workers from non-melanoma skin cancer
A new parliamentary report says there is an urgent need to protect outdoor workers from non-melanoma skin cancer

Outdoor workers such as farmers are more than twice as likely to develop the UK's most common cancer, according to a new report.

Public awareness of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) in the UK is 'worryingly low', the All Party Parliamentary Group on Skin report said.

The group, chaired by Sir Edward Leigh MP, said 'urgent action' was needed to improve sun protection for outdoor workers, such as farmers and agricultural workers.

NMSC is the most common cancer in the UK, with more than 152,000 new cases diagnosed every year; the equivalent of 416 every day. This is more than breast, prostate and lung cancers combined.

The report said outdoor workers were more than twice as likely to develop NMSC compared to indoor workers, because of increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun.

The parliamentary report said the number of people at increased risk of NMSC was 'significant', despite it being 'largely preventable'.

In the UK, there is a legal responsibility for employers in England to protect the long-term health of their employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Yet a survey of over 3,600 people, conducted to inform the report, showed that two thirds (64%) of employees who work outside for more than one hour per day do not get help from their employers to protect against skin cancer.

Diane Cannon, of charity Melanoma UK, said NMSC was a 'highly visible' type of cancer that can cause 'lasting disfigurement'.

"This can result in substantial distress and affect a person’s self-esteem and confidence,” she said.

“This report not only highlights the importance of increasing awareness of NMSC and its risk factors among outdoor workers, but for employers to improve the measures they have in place to protect their employees from this serious, yet preventable disease.”

NMSC can be successfully treated with surgery, but in a small number of cases the cancer can spread and be fatal.

What can I do to protect myself?

The NHS has given health and safety advice for outdoor workers such as farmers and construction workers:

• Use at least factor 15 sunscreen in the sun and use plenty of it

• Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin – don’t forget your neck and ears and your head if you have thinning or no hair

• Wear sunglasses and a hat

• If it’s very hot, spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm

• Take particular care if have fair skin, moles or freckles, red or fair hair, or light-coloured eyes.