The Franklin County Fair kicks off this week and it is bound to be populated by lots of suntanned rural people who are very accustomed to being outdoors. Spending a lot of time outdoors leads to lots of advantages but it also can carry a big health disadvantage, if people aren’t adequately prepared for it — skin cancer.

 Of course, rural people aren’t the only ones running the risk of skin cancer from excessive exposure to the sun. Kansas is rife with people who work outdoors including agricultural, highway workers, recreation and construction workers and many others. Others who seek artificial measures, such as tanning salons, to procure the perceived healthy glow of a tan are just as likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer. If people, including kids and adults at the fair, don’t apply sunscreen early and often they could be setting themselves up for melanoma skin cancer later in life. Suffering severe sun burns early in life can increase risk factors for contracting skin cancer later in life.

 Agricultural work offers ample, frequent sun exposure and, if no attempts are made to protect skin from the harmful effects of the sun, can lead to skin melanomas and non-melanomas, also known as skin cancer. According to a 2009 study by the Center for Disease Control, as reported in the Hutchinson News, more than a million people in the United States have been diagnosed with skin cancer. Kansas ranks 18th in the nation for new melanoma cases and is 9 percent higher than the national average for incidence of skin cancer.

 Other factors, such as a family history, can provide an increased risk of developing skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society’s website. Caucasians are 10 times more likely to get melanoma than an African American, especially whites with red or blond hair, blue or green eyes and those with fair skin that freckles. A good familiarity with your own body, particularly of the pattern of moles, blemishes and other marks and watching any changes in those is one way to detect a possible sign of skin cancer early.

 Early detection may allow skin cancer to be effectively treated by surgery alone, while those detected later may require more advanced treatments, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy or other targeted therapy. Rather than running the risk of contracting skin cancer, Kansans should do all they can to avoid excessive sun exposure without also wearing protection. Hats, umbrellas, protective clothing and using a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 and ultra-violet protection can enable enjoyment of the outdoors — including the fair — without increasing the risk for developing skin cancer.

— Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher