Sun exposure is a well-known cause of melanoma and other types of skin cancer; those who work outdoors or who drive regularly face a higher risk of this disease.
Occupational exposure is responsible for about 34,000 cases of skin cancer each year in Australia alone. Those working in fields that require lots of sun exposure are most at risk, including construction workers, agricultural workers, pilots, and surprisingly, office workers.
Recent studies indicate that Australians working in these fields may be receiving up to 9 times the amount of dangerous UV radiation exposure than those working in any other capacity.
Why are these fields so risky? A look at the work performed and the amount of sun exposure for each field yields some clues.
Because they spend long hours outdoors and often do not take precautions against sun damage, construction workers have a significantly elevated risk of contracting skin cancer.
According to the Australian Work Exposure Study, 86% are exposed to UV radiation; these hard-working individuals are more likely to develop not only skin cancer but the deadliest form of the disease — melanoma.
Long days spent working outdoors in the sunniest seasons lead to a heightened risk. This risk is further aggravated by the worker’s unwillingness or disinterest in taking precautions.
Simply wearing garments that protect the skin or applying sunscreen could reduce risk, but most workers in the study neglected to do so.
The increase in risk is attributed to prolonged exposure for months or even years at a time and continues to be an occupational health crisis for the nation’s construction workers. Early detection could save lives if workers are educated in what to look for.
According to the Noble Research Institute, individuals working in agriculture have a heightened risk of skin cancer because they spend a great deal of time in the sun.
In fact, in Safe Work Australia’s study, researchers found that 99% of agricultural workers were exposed to UV radiation.
This group includes farmers and ranch, forestry, and fishery workers as well.
In Australia, skin cancer rates associated with sun exposure are soaring; over 80% of the cancers diagnosed here are skin related. Rates are higher than ever in agriculture. These diligent individuals need to spend time outdoors tending to crops and animals, often in direct sunlight and under damaging UV radiation.
Longer days coincide with harvest times, increasing the amount of time the typical agricultural worker spends in direct sunlight.
In addition to the risk posed by longer exposure, many of these workers do not understand or place enough importance on the prevention of skin cancer and the reduction of sun exposure, leading to further risk.
Being outdoors elevates your risk of skin cancer, but those who soar through the clouds regularly face an even higher than the rest of us.
Recent studies reveal that pilots and aircraft crew may have about twice the risk of contracting the deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma, than the general population — not because of sun exposure, but because of their repeated closer exposure to intense UV radiation while in flight.
Furthermore, for every additional 900 metres of altitude above sea level, there is a 15 percent increase in intensity of UV radiation.
A study by University of California dermatologists have found that 56 minutes behind the controls at 30,000 feet is the equivalent of 20 minutes on an average-strength sunbed.
Altitude could play a role in the increased incidence of skin cancer; planes are simply closer to the source, and airplane windows and windshields do not usually have UV-A protection, placing pilots at a greater risk than other occupations.
While more research is needed, the combination of poor protection and closer proximity is considered likely to blame for the elevated risk.
Indoor and Office Work
They don’t spend time in the sun picking crops or building structures, but office workers have a similar or surprisingly high risk of cutaneous malignant melanoma than outdoor workers.
This is directly related to the way buildings are structured and the way people work and even how office spaces are set up.
Workers with a coveted window office get a magnificent view, but they also increase their risk of cancer, if they sit near that window to work.
Most office buildings do not use glass that blocks UV rays, and a worker sitting in sunshine eight hours a day gets plenty of extra exposure. This can lead to an increase in skin cancer risk, even if the worker never heads outdoors.
Simply being aware of the risk can help. Simply moving a desk and chair away from a window could make a dramatic change in risk for office workers as well.
Understanding Your Melanoma Risk
Australia's attitudes towards sun exposure has led to dangerous consequences with 2 in 3 of us being diagnosed with skin cancer by 70.
That's why taking simple steps to avoid skin cancer, whether one works indoors or outdoors, is imperative. Practising sun safety and getting regular skin checks will help cut the ever-growing rates of melanoma and related cancers in Australia.
If you believe your beloved profession is putting you at high risk of skin cancer, you need to be on the constant lookout for unusual changes in your skin. Do this effectively with a full body check. At MoleMap, we help you proactively manage your melanoma risk and detect melanoma in its earliest, most treatable stage. Book a full-body MoleMap today.
In addition to our clinic based services for individuals, MoleMap offer workplace skin screening services. If you manage a business where your staff are at risk, contact us to discuss how MoleMap can help you keep them safe.