Skin Cancer


Organization(s): Midstate Education and Service Foundation (formerly: Midstate Central Council, AFL-CIO)

Summary Statement: Brief discussion of the risks of skin cancer from sun exposure, including how to assess and reduce your risk.

Construction workers who work outside in the sun risk skin damage such as blemishes, sun freckles and wrinkles (similar to the aging process). Continued exposure over time can cause damaged skin to become cancerous.

Three different types of skin cancer are linked to sunlight exposure. Basal cell cancer (the most common), and squamous cell cancer are usually treatable and totally cured if caught in time. Malignant melanoma is rarer, but also more likely to be fatal if treatment is delayed. Most of the 10,000 Americans who die from skin cancer each year are victims of malignant melanoma.

Assessing Your Skin Cancer Risk
The risk of developing skin cancer increases with the amount of time over the years you spend without protection in the sun and the intensity of the sun's rays you are exposed to. Intensity is greater in the summer, from 10 am to 2 p.m., at high altitudes and in southern locations. Brick masons may have higher risk because concrete can reflect up to 50 percent of the sun's radiation. Other factors affecting risk include:

  • heredity - those with less skin pigment (such as those of Irish, Scottish and Northern European descent), or who suffer sunburn more easily, have increased risk
  • chemicals - exposure to certain chemicals, such as coal tar pitch, some drugs and antibiotics, and some solvents, increases the skin's sensitivity to the damaging effects of sunlight

Reduce Your Risk

The main thing you can do to reduce your risk is reduce your exposure to the sun. There are two ways of doing this. First, wear protective clothing such as a hat with a brim and long pants. Second, use protective sunscreens. Use a sunscreen with a SPF (skin protection factor) of at least 15, and also one that is water-resistant, so it can withstand humidity and sweat. Avoid products such as baby oil, cocoa butter or skin oils which do not protect against sunburn.

In addition to reducing your exposure, examine yourself regularly. Check your skin for danger signs, including any wound, sore or patch of skin that won't heal or constantly scales or any growing lump, particularly if it is brown or bluish in color. Also check for moles that grow, or change shape or color. If anything looks suspicious get a medical opinion - sooner rather than later.

More Information
Contact the Labor Council for a useful article, "Sunlight and Skin Cancer: The Occupational Health Concern," published by the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety.

Long sleeve shirt, long pants and headgear with a brim can offer some protection from the sun.

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