Skin cancer

As farmers we spend a lot of time outside. It’s estimated that 86% of melanoma skin cancer each year are related to excessive UV exposure.

Skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer diagnosed in the UK. However, 86% of the 15,906 cases of skin cancer cases diagnosed in 2015 were preventable.

Cutaneous malignant melanoma (CMM), a type of skin cancer, is responsible for 65% of all skin cancer deaths. Approximately one death and five new cases a week in Britain are related to occupational sun exposure.

Skin cancer in farming

Agriculture has the second highest cases of occupational skin cancer for any industry.

Although we farmers recognise that sun protection is important, many of us are complacent in our application of sunscreen. Over 25% of us never apply it and only 10% of us apply it every day.

Reduce the risk

It is important to note that 80% of harmful solar radiation can penetrate through the clouds. Protective measures should be undertaken when the UV radiation reaches level 3 (moderate) or higher. The Met Office publishes the UV level as part of its forecasts.

A tan will not protect you from the damaging effects of UV radiation, it is actually an indicator of skin damage.

Preventative measures should include:

  • Cover up with long sleeves and trousers (remembering that UV radiation can pass through loosely woven material)
  • Don a pair of sunglasses with the CE Mark and European Standard EN 1836:2005 (your eyes can burn too)
  • Sport a wide brimmed hat
  • When possible, work in the shade between 11am – 3pm
  • Apply sunscreen a UVA sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher and a UVA protection of at least four stars liberally to exposed skin.


University Hospitals Bristol (2017) 80 per cent of people involved in country life think outdoor workers are at greater risk of skin cancer. Available at: (Accessed 24th April 2019)

Cummins, D.L., Cummins, J.M., Pantle, H., Silverman, M.A., Leonard, A.L. and Chanmugam, A., 2006, April. Cutaneous malignant melanoma. In Mayo clinic proceedings (Vol. 81, No. 4, pp. 500-507). Elsevier.

Cancer Research UK (2015) Cancer incidence for common cancers. Available at (Accessed 23rd April 2019)

Rushton, L. and Hutchings, S.J., 2017. The burden of occupationally-related cutaneous malignant melanoma in Britain due to solar radiation. British journal of cancer, 116(4), p.536.

Spectator Health (2017) Study reveals the riskiest jobs for skin cancer. Available at: (Accessed 24th April 2019)

Farm Safety Foundation (2018) A ‘farmer’s tan’ may be a joke to some but skin cancer is no joke for many… Available at (Accessed 24th April 2019)

Irish Cancer Society (2017) One in four skin cancer deaths are from the construction and farming sector. Available at (Accessed 24th April 2019)

NHS (2016) Sunscreen and sun safety. Available at: (Accessed 24th April 2019)