National Center for Farmworker Health
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April 2015
Mar May


 National Center for Farmworker Health

Quarterly Topics


Skin Cancer

Exposure to the sun’s rays can lead to skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States with more than 1 million cases diagnosed annually. Approximately 8,420 people die each year from melanoma skin cancer and 2,500 people die from Squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer. Farmworkers’ working and living conditions expose them to long hours of ultra-violet radiation, putting them at a higher risk of developing skin cancer. Research shows that though many farmworkers cover their bodies with clothing while working, many areas, such as lower arms, neck and ears, remain unprotected. Also, many farmworkers do not wear sunscreen or do not know what sunscreen is or how to use it. Studies have also shown that pesticides, a product common in farmworkers’ lives, can lead to higher risks for skin cancer and occupational skin diseases.

Research on Skin Cancer

Sun-Protective Behaviors California Farmworkers written by Ricardo Salas, Joni A. Mayer and Katherine D. Hoerster in 2005.

This study evaluates the sun exposure behaviors of farmworkers who have a higher risk of skin cancer from exposure to long hours working under ultraviolet radiation. Researches interviewed 326 farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley of California, asking questions about their sun-protective behaviors, as well as directly observing participants’ actions. The study found that though rates of wearing hats and long-sleeved shirts were high, rates of wearing more protective wide-brimmed hats and sunscreen were low. The researchers call for interventions to improve farmworkers’ sun protection behaviors.

Pesticides as a Cause of Occupational Skin Diseases in Farmers written by Radoslaw Spiewak in 2001.

Because skin is the most exposed organ while spraying pesticides, many farmers experience pesticide-related dermatoses, such as contact dermatitis, both allergic and irritant, hair and nail disorders and skin cancer. This study discusses the carcinogenic properties attributed to arsenic pesticides, which can lead to problems many years after exposure, including skin cancer. As an overview of the most common skin conditions as a result of pesticide use, the report includes information on each condition, the prevalence in farmers and anecdotal literature reviews.

Helping Farmworkers Prevent Cancer written by Carol Hooks, Joanne Weinman, Kristina Gryboski and Barbara Connally in 1997.

To study cancer control strategies in farmworkers and their families, a nonprofit called PATH began a four-year project, Cancer Communication Strategies for Farmworkers in the Mid-Atlantic United States. This article is a summary of the project, which had a special focus on skin cancer. The project aimed at increasing skin and cervical cancer awareness and making cancer-related services more readily available. Results of the project show that a health navigator approach succeeded in changing farmworkers’ knowledge and behaviors and that talking with farmworkers face-to-face in their language also increased knowledge and self-protective behaviors.

Skin Cancer Prevention: A Peer Education Model written by Douglas J. Reding, Virginia Fischer, Paul Gunderson and Karen Lappe in 1995.

This article reviews a peer education program on skin cancer prevention, which aims to help farming populations that are not reached by other health professionals. Local high school students in the FFA organization discussed sun protection and skin cancer with younger elementary-school students in counties with high farming populations. Researches focused on children with the intent that they would return home and share the information with their families. Results showed that the peer facilitators were effective in educating younger students concerning skin cancer, with surveys showing significant increases in third-grade student sun protection knowledge..

Treating Skin Disease: Self-Management Behaviors of Latino Farmworkers written by Thomas A. Arcury, Quirina M. Vallejos, Steven R. Feldman and Sara A. Quandt in 2006.

The purpose of this paper is to describe skin disease self-management practices among Latino migrant and seasonal farmworkers in North Carolina. Researches conducted in-depth interviews with 30 Latino farmworkers to gain information that would assist them in developing recommendations on how to improve the delivery of health services and improve occupational health policy for agricultural workers. The results of this study indicate that farmworkers have widely shared self-care behaviors that include hygiene, use of home remedies, such as lemon and garlic, and the use of over-the-counter medicine. Though farmworkers acknowledge the benefits of medical care, they are also mindful of barriers to its use, including cost, transportation and language.

The Association Of Dermatologist-Diagnosed and Self-Reported Skin Diseases with Skin-Related Quality of Life in Latino Migrant Farmworkers written by Sara A. Quandt et al. in 2008.

This study examines the relationship between skin diseases and quality of life among farmworkers who are at high risk for skin diseases. Over the course of a work season, researchers compared the association between skin-related quality of life and workers’ self reports of dermatologist-diagnosed conditions in 304 Latino farmworkers in North Carolina. Results showed that skin problems significantly impacted the quality of life in these farmworkers and that treatment for these conditions might enhance quality of life.