Beware of sun damage


  • About 80,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year, most with a less serious type
  • Sun damage has a cumulative effect
  • Fair-skinned people are most at risk
  • Dr. Joel Claveau recommends using sunscreen, wearing a hat (not cap) and keeping outdoor activity to times of the day when the sun is less intense

Dr. Joel Claveau wishes he knew far fewer farmers.

That sounds strange when you consider agricultural producers represent the biggest and fastest-growing group of clients at his busy private clinic in Quebec City. But Claveau is a dermatologist specializing in skin cancers.

He is notably a world-class clinician and researcher in malignant melanoma – the type that is more likely to spread inside the human body and kill.

Claveau says that in his practice, he rarely sees a farmer over 50 who hasn’t had a brush with skin cancer. “People who minimize or dismiss the health risks of sun exposure on farmers, construction workers and others who spend much of their lives outdoors are just burying their heads in the sand,” he says.

You need to take some preventative action every day, even when it’s cloudy.

About 80,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year. The vast majority will have less serious skin cancers like basal and squamous cell carcinomas that can safely be treated at a dermatologist’s office.

But some 6,500 new cases of the more rare and deadly melanoma will also be diagnosed. They will result in about 1,600 deaths from leukemia and other cancers.

It doesn’t have to be that way

According to Claveau, most skin cancers result from the harmful effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which lead to genetic mutations that cause cells to grow out of control. Fair-skinned people are especially at risk.

“There is a cumulative effect,” Claveau explains. Farmers who seem quite healthy at 50 can display symptoms of skin cancer by age 70, he says. “You need to take some preventative action every day, even when it’s cloudy.”

Claveau recommends applying sun screen on exposed body parts once in the morning before heading outdoors, and again at lunch. He also recommends wearing a hat and not a baseball cap, which doesn’t provide protection for the ears or neck. It’s also critical to stay out of the sun whenever possible, especially during peak sun hours.

And consult a physician if a painful lesion or a mole appears on sun-exposed skin, or even on areas that rarely see the light of day. “If it’s been there a couple of months, you should consider it to be a cancer until proven otherwise,” Claveau says.

Learn how to protect yourself with more tips from the Canadian Dermatology Association or Health Canada.

From a July/August 2015 AgriSuccess article by Mark Cardwell

Mark is a freelance journalist and writer in the Quebec City region.