Public Release: 

Professor Designs Program To Reduce Incidence Of Skin Cancer Among Agricultural Workers

University of Georgia

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia farmers are finding some new items at their local feed-and-seed stores this spring. Along with fertilizer, seed and pesticides, agricultural workers can find bottles of sunscreen and a new style of the famous John Deere cap.

The caps and sunscreen are part of a broad-based campaign to educate agricultural workers and their families about all kinds of cancer, especially skin cancer.

"Each year more than 800,000 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States," according to University of Georgia professor Roxanne Parrott. "In Georgia alone close to 800 cases are diagnosed each year and 150 people die from skin cancer that could have been successfully treated if it had been diagnosed earlier."

With $1.15 million in funding from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the state Department of Human Resources Cancer Control Program, Parrott has spent the past three years developing a broad-based campaign -- Georgia's Harvesting Healthy Habits Campaign -- to educate agricultural workers and their families about all kinds of cancers, but especially focusing on skin cancer.

By gathering information on more than 450 farmers plus their wives and children in an eight-county area of South Georgia, as well as talking to public health nurses and representatives of the UGA Extension Service, Parrott determined what agricultural workers know about their risk for cancer and the best ways for educating them about ways to reduce those risks.

"We literally followed farmers during their daily routine and interviewed them extensively about their knowlege of skin cancer and other health issues," Parrott said. "We have focused on answering every possible question and determining the best way to make long-term changes in agricultural workers' behavior concerning reducing their risk of skin cancer."

Parrott found that the local feed-and-seed store was one of the best places for educating farmers.

"There's already a lot of education that goes on at these stores," she said. "For example, the extension service has information on pesticide hazards available there. Our research showed that farmers studied the information on cancer that we displayed."

In analyzing how to get farmers to wear sun-protective clothing, Parrott also discovered why the stores didn't carry many hats. "The farmers around here mostly wear baseball-style caps they receive free from various companies. It's extremely rare for them to buy a hat."

As a result of the research, the Gold Kist Co. has agreed to sponsor the educational displays concerning skin-cancer risks and the John Deere tractor company has agreed to offer its famous green cap with flaps sewn onto the back that provide coverage from the sun for the neck. In addition, many farming supply stores are now stocking sun block.

"We also learned that farmers listen to their wives when it comes to health care," Parrott said. "By working with the extension service's home demonstration agents we've developed programs that educate these women about their husbands' increased risk of skin cancer as well as their own risk for breast and cervical cancer."

The program reaches children through the use of 4-H programs and coloring books that describe the problems of skin cancer.

Parrott's research also determined that few public health nurses felt knowledgeable about conducting examinations for skin cancer. As a result, a video featuring the director of the melanoma center at Emory University was developed and provided to nurses in these rural areas in addition to extensive printed material for nurses to use for educational purposes both for themselves and others.

The educational materials also have been printed in Spanish in order to reach the several thousand Spanish-speaking migrant farm workers found in the state.

"We particularly found that the migrant workers read the children's coloring book," Parrott noted. "Since many of them have limited education, the coloring book is at a level they can understand."

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