May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and by raising awareness we hope to increase the number of people taking action when they notice a change to their skin or moles.

Skin cancer is the fifth most common type of cancer in the UK according to the NHS, with 50 new cases diagnosed every day and, unfortunately, seven deaths per day based on information from the British Skin Foundation. People of every age and gender are equally at risk of developing skin cancers.

Farmers and those working in the agriculture sector are at the highest risk of developing skin cancer due to working long hours outdoors exposed to UV rays with the potential to cause sunburn and long-term skin damage.

It is important to be exposed to sunlight for our bodies to produce vitamin D. However, prolonged exposure is not healthy for skin. Being sunburned five times doubles a person’s chance of having skin cancer, and being badly sunburned just once in childhood more than doubles the risk of developing melanoma or skin cancer later in life.

The Scottish Farmer: Perthshire farmer Ally Dawson demonstrates good practice with Factor 50 suncream and a wide-brimmed hat at a very hot Fife Show. Ideally he would have sunglasses on too and long sleeves to keep his risk of skin damage low.Perthshire farmer Ally Dawson demonstrates good practice with Factor 50 suncream and a wide-brimmed hat at a very hot Fife Show. Ideally he would have sunglasses on too and long sleeves to keep his risk of skin damage low.

Results of a study this month by Melanoma UK worryingly shows that 65% of those in Scotland can remember being sunburned badly (resulting in blisters) at least once. The majority of British people describe their skin type as light, pale or white, which is the skin type most susceptible to burning in the sun.

It is important to know the signs of skin cancers and melanomas as early detection leads to a quicker diagnosis and treatment, and better prognosis. The first sign of a melanoma is commonly a new mole, or a change to the appearance of a mole, freckle or patch of skin.

A mole may:

  • Increase in size
  • Change shape or colour
  • Bleed or become ‘crusty’
  • Become itchy or painful

(NHS Inform has a handy ‘ABC’ checklist which helps to tell the difference between a normal mole and a melanoma)

  • Asymmetrical – melanomas have two very different halves and are an irregular shape
  • Border – melanomas have a notched or ragged border
  • Colours – melanomas will be a mix of two or more colours
  • Diameter – melanomas are larger than 6mm (1/4 inch) in diameter.
  • Enlargement or elevation – a mole that changes size over time is more likely to be a melanoma.

No-one is immune from developing skin cancer. However, there are certain groups who are more susceptible to the disease than others. Having a family history whereby two or more close relatives have had skin cancer increases your risk of developing the condition. You may also have an increased risk if you have red or blonde hair, blue eyes, older age, a large number of freckles, or have an area of skin previously damaged by burning or radiotherapy.

Evidence also suggests that exposure to certain chemicals including creosote and arsenic may increase the chances of developing skin cancer.

People who have medical conditions which suppress the immune system (such as Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis), or are on immunosuppressive medication, are also at greater risk.

Prevention is definitely better than cure when it comes to health, and there is no better example of this than skin cancer, with Cancer Research UK stating that 86% of skin cancer cases are preventable. It takes very minimal effort to significantly reduce the risks of skin cancer.

I know that the first thing everyone wants to do at the first glimmer of sunshine after a long winter in Scotland is to get the shorts and T-shirts out and give our pasty skin some sunlight. However, this definitely increases the risk of getting sunburned and developing melanoma, or a type of skin cancer.

The three simple actions you can take to reduce your risk in the sun are to wear long sleeves and keep your skin covered as much as possible. Wear a wide-brimmed hat which protects skin on the face and neck, along with sunglasses (wraparound styles offer the best eye protection), and most importantly wear sunscreen (not forgetting the ears, nose and head).

Macmillan Cancer Support recommends at least factor 30.

Using suncream daily is vital and when choosing suncream try to find one which protects against UVA and UVB, and is rated at least four stars. It is important to reapply it regularly throughout the day, especially if you have been sweating or in water.

So, the next time it’s a ‘taps aff’ day, remember to put the suncream on – ideally Factor 50!

If you or someone you know have any signs of skin cancer, or notice something on your skin that just ‘doesn’t look right’, follow your gut instinct and contact your GP in the first instance. They will be able to assess your symptoms and take action appropriately.

Macmillan Cancer Support also has further information on skin cancer which can be accessed at or by calling Macmillan direct on 0808 808 00 00 from 8am-8pm.

RSABI’s Helpline is 24 hours offering practical, emotional and financial support on 0808 1234 555.

Laura Lumsden

Laura has strong roots in agriculture, having grown up on the family’s mixed arable farm near Turriff, where she is the fifth generation to farm. Laura studied nursing at the Robert Gordon University where she graduated in 2012, before completing a further degree in public health.

She feels lucky to be able to combine both nursing and farming by taking over the reins of the RSABI’s Health Hut at Thainstone Mart and is looking forward to meeting farmers at the summer shows to check blood pressure and ensure farmers are keeping well.