Skin cancer – risks and early signs

skin cancer

Farming men and women and agricultural workers spend a lot of time working outdoors. Without appropriate protection they can be increasing their risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer can be a life-threatening condition and protecting skin from Ultraviolet (UV) radiation should be taken very seriously.

Sun exposure is the cause of most skin cancers in Australia. And people who work outdoors get up to 10 times more sun exposure than indoor workers. Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. In 2013, more than 2,200 Australians died from this almost entirely preventable disease. (Cancer Council Australia, 2017)

Skin cancer – risk factors

Common risk factors for skin cancer include having fair skin, having many moles and freckles, a personal or family history of skin cancer, excessive sun exposure and solarium use. Some ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is important for bone and muscle health, but too much UV can cause sunburn, premature ageing, skin and eye damage and ultimately skin cancer. Protecting skin from over-exposure can help reduce your risk of skin cancer.

Find out more about this topic on Better Health Channel

Fortunately, being SunSmart is a simple and effective way to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.

Be Sun Smart!

Using the combination of five simple sun protection measures and avoiding outdoor farming tasks in the middle of the day or when UV radiation is highest, will assist in reducing  the risk of skin cancer.

Slip on long sleeves and pants
Slop on 50+ sunscreen
Slap on hat
Seek shade
Slide on sunglasses

Check your skin (and your friend’s and family’s skin) regularly for any changes in moles or sunspots.  Look for any changes in shape, colour and size. If you notice changes or are concerned then see your doctor and request a sun spot check.


  • Skin cancer can be prevented:
  • Wear a wide brimmed hat, even on cloudy days
  • Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Work in the shade if possible between 11am and 3.00 pm.
  • Wear sunglasses
  • Use sunscreen SPF 50+
  • Check out the UV forecasts from the weather bureau on the Farmer Health weather pages. You need sun protection when the UV index is 3 or above. 

References used for this topic page

More information:

Cancer Council Australia
Causes of skin cancer

Cancer Institute NSW
Skin cancer risk tool

Sunsmart Victoria
Protecting your farm’s most important asset. You. (PDF)

Sunsmart Victoria
Checking for skin cancer

Clinical care:

Cancer Council Australia
Skin cancer clinical guidelines

Cancer Council Australia
Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Melanoma in Australia and New Zealand [PDF 7Mb]

Research & reviews:

Science Direct
Farmers sun exposure, skin protection and public health campaigns: An Australian perspective

Contemporary Clinical Trials
The skin awareness study : promoting thorough skin self-examination for skin cancer among men 50 years or older

Journal of American Academy of Dermatology
Screening, early detection, and trends for melanoma: Current status (2000-2006) and future directions

Journal of American Academy of Dermatology
Rural-urban differences in behaviours to prevent skin cancer: An analysis of the Health Information National Trends Survey

Fast facts:

Skin cancer – risks and early signs

  • Farmers spend a lot of time outdoors; this can increase the risk of skin cancer.
  • Check your skin regularly for any changes, especially moles or freckles that change.
  • See your doctor if you see any change.  Skin cancer, if picked up early can usually be treated.
  • Wear a hat, sunglasses, keep your skin covered as much as possible and use sunscreen on exposed skin

Last updated: 22nd January, 2018