Avera Medical Minute: Farmers reducing skin cancer risks with wide-brimmed hat

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MITCHELL, S.D. (KSFY) - Kurt Stiefvater is a fourth-generation farmer near Salem. "I've always wanted to farm, my parents retired in the mid-'90s and I took over full time then after farming with my parents and we just keep rolling it there and hopefully get it to the next generation," said Stiefvater.

wide-brimmed hat for sun safety

Although there are many things Kurt loves about farming, one of the drawbacks has been the toll the sun has taken on his skin, and suspicious moles that had to be removed. "With my exposure over the years, I thought I needed to do something different," said Stiefvater.

Farmers and sun damage is an ongoing concern according to Dr. Mandi Greenway at Avera Grasslands Health in Mitchell. She sees the difference in the generations of farmers:

"My older world war two-generation, they grew up with the typical farmer so they had long sleeve shirts on, and a straw brimmed hat and they actually had less skin cancer than the next generation that I was seeing. And I started noticing all these younger farmers wearing baseball caps and I would ask them can you get a straw hat, can you get a cowboy hat, can you get a fishing hat, and they would say the same thing. They started giving them out, so I have all these free baseball caps so I don't want to wear anything different," said Dr. Greenway.

Seeing the need to bring back the trend of a wide-brimmed hat for farmers, the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition changed their hats. She says it's a parallel message. Protect the soil by covering it, and protect your skin by covering it too. Cindy Zenk is the coordinator. "Having them have the hats, and using those hats instead of a baseball cap, or what they say a seed cap, it provides them more cover," said Zenk.

And that extra brim on your hat can make a substantial difference over the years. "For each inch of brim, that you wear over consistently of your lifetime, reduces your skin cancer by about ten percent. So, of course, that doesn't happen overnight, but if you commit to wearing a three or four-inch wide-brimmed hat consistently when you're outside, that reduces your risk of developing skin cancer by thirty to forty percent so that's a huge reduction of risk," said Dr. Greenway.

Thankfully all of Kurt's spots were removed in time, and with regular checkups, he continues to have his skin treated for anything new that develops.

"Get your check-ups done and stay on top of it because it seems like there's a lot more exposure happening and cancer showing up, and just as well catch it early," said Stiefvater.

Seed companies are starting to offer a choice of hats, making the baseball hats and the wide-brimmed hats both available. Doctor Greenway says it's important to also wear sunscreen, even while inside the tractor cab.