Melanoma, Farmers And Farm Kids

Show-Me Life

Trip to the doctor raises questions on sun exposure.

Published on: January 25, 2013

As my youngest daughter sat on the doctor's table, our family physician began to explain the procedure.

"I am going to take something like an apple core and twist it into the mole," he said. "I'll pop out about 2 centimeters."

At that point, this mom, who has held a ewe's uterus in her hands, was even wincing. My daughter's face turned white.

Like many other farm kids, my girls spend much of their summer out of doors. Traveling to sheep shows every week requires that they, dry, trim and fit, all of the show stock under the relentless Missouri sun. Since both of my girls are teenagers, it is just the right amount of water and sun to secure their bronze tan.

I never questioned their methods until now. At this doctor appointment, all I could do was wonder if our farming lifestyle contributed to my daughter being tested for melanoma.

The trip to the doctor came after we noticed a mole along my daughter's hairline had become larger and more irregular in shape. And our concern was warranted.

ABCD's of melanoma
According to our physician, he looks to see whether the mole or skin discoloration passes the ABCD test before performing a biopsy.

"A" is for asymmetrical. Draw a line down the middle of the mole. If it looks the same on both sides, a "mirror-reflection," then it is symmetrical and there is no problem. If it appears different on one side compared to the other, it is asymmetrical. My daughter's was asymmetrical.

"B" is for borders. The edges or corners of the mole should be smooth. If there are frayed or jagged, it is a cause for concern. The edges of her mole were "slightly, frayed."

"C" is for color. Typical moles are brown in color. Any hints of black, blue or dark brown can be a symptom. My girl's was just brown.

"D" is for dimension. The rule is 5 centimeters, according to our physician. My daughter's was 5x7 centimeters.

Failing 3 out of the 4 tests, the doctor felt compelled to send in a biopsy of her mole. While he says it is "borderline," he wanted to play it safe.

Founded fear?
Then, like most parents, questions started swirling in my head. Did our family lifestyle increase my child's risk of developing melanoma? I began to search websites and found conflicting reports "farmers have increased risk," "because of longer exposure farmers have reduced risk,"--not helpful.

However, at the Mayo Clinic website, I found her risk for skin cancer may be as much to do with age and gender, as it is with environment.

Last year, the Mayo Clinic reported a dramatic increase in skin cancer in young people. Researchers conducted a population-based study using records from the Rochester Epidemiology Project, in Olmsted County, Minn. They looked for first-time diagnoses of melanoma in patients 18 to 39 and found the incidence of melanoma increased eightfold among young women and fourfold among young men over a span of four decades. While, the lifetime risk of melanoma is higher in males than females, the opposite is true in young adults and adolescents.

Researchers speculate that the use of indoor tanning beds is a key culprit in the rising cancer rate in young women, citing that people who use indoor tanning beds frequently are 74%more likely to develop melanoma.

My take
Based on the information, some data does suggest that lifelong exposure to the sun increases the risk of skin cancer. So, farmers and farm kids should take precautions by applying sunscreen and wearing a hat.

However, I am not willing to say that farming causes melanoma in kids. I believe my daughter's sheep washing tanning method may prove healthier than visiting a tanning bed in the long-run. I will know in a week.