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Seek out the shade, not the sun

The next time you take a few minutes out of the sun, dust off one of those old family albums. You know the ones that date back to the '20s, '30s, '40s and even late '50s.

If your family farmed, you'll see photos of your relatives attired in wide-brimmed hats. Look at their shirts. They wore loose-fitting, long-sleeved, light-colored garments.

Now fast-forward to the photographs of the mid-'60s. Clothing styles changed. You don't see too many long-sleeved shirts any longer. Broad-brimmed hats have been replaced with baseball caps proclaiming seed, feed, tractors, and organizations -- just about any company logo under the sun.

Today's farmer no longer wears the clothing of yesteryear -- clothing that afforded protection from the sun's harmful ultra-violet rays. Instead, he wears a smaller, softer, snug-fitting cap that will not blow off and bump into machinery. Farmers prefer their hats to be inexpensive or free, and they like them colorful.

While the ball cap is comfortable and affordable, it does not protect the temples, the tender, delicate ear tips and the back of the neck. The baseball cap doesn't extend far enough to offer protection against the sun.

Health specialists in the agricultural field have been tracking skin cancer and the sun's harmful impact on farmers and other segments of society since 1983. While the number of deaths from skin cancer remains small, the amount of tumors has increased significantly according to family physicians who treat farmers in rural communities.

Ultra-violet rays are one of the leading causes of cancer on farms today, researchers say. But with early diagnosis, treatment is possible. Farmers and ranchers should insist on inspection for skin cancer as part of their regular check-ups.

Without protective measures, sun will eventually result in skin cancer. Dermatologists recommend that anyone working or playing in the sunshine protect their skin completely by wearing clothing and a wide-brimmed hat.

The American Cancer Society will tell you there is a skin cancer epidemic. The number of cases is rising faster than any other tumor being studied today.

"If current trends continue, one in five Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime, and many of these skin cancers could be prevented by reducing UV exposure from the sun and indoor tanning devices," says Tom Frieden Centers for Disease Control director. "Of particular concern is the increase we are seeing in rates of melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer. In the United States, melanoma is one of the most common cancers among people ages 15 to 29 years."

Spending time in the sun increases the risk of skin cancer. Everyone can sunburn and suffer harmful effects of exposure to UV radiation. People can protect themselves by choosing a sunscreen that is right for them, wearing protective clothing and limiting time in the sun.

Youngsters and young adults must be educated today. If they learn about the sun's dangerous rays at an early age and practice prevention, skin cancer can be avoided in later years.

Seek shade when the sun's rays are strongest; avoid sunburns, intentional tanning, and use of tanning beds; use extra caution near reflective surfaces like water and sand.

Farmers, ranchers -- just about anyone who works or plays in the sun should avoid direct exposure from 10 a.m. until about 3 p.m. in the Midwest.

If you can't wear a wide-brimmed hat and protective clothing, apply at least a SPF 30 sun protective lotion. Today's farmers and ranchers would be well-advised to take a page out of their family albums -- to return to those days of floppy, wide-brimmed straw hats and long-sleeved, cotton shirts.

Who knows, maybe they could start a new fashion craze as well as protect their skin from the damaging rays of the sun.

Hoxie native John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas who writes for the Kansas Farm Bureau.