Southwest farmers and ranchers have plenty of baseball-type caps. They are as ubiquitous as dust in the High Plains and about as easy to collect. Seed, implement and chemical company sales reps hand them out at field days, conferences and turn-row gatherings.

And they are nice to have.

But don’t count on them to protect your face and eyes from the ravages of the sun.

“A cap is simply not enough protection,” says Mary Collier, Terry County, Texas, AgriLife Extension agent, family and consumer services and 4-H coordinator.

“Farmers and ranchers are in an at-risk occupation,” Collier said during a recent county production conference in Brownfield. Farmers spend a lot of time in the sun and may not protect themselves adequately. Skin cancer should be a significant concern.

She recommended frequent skin checks and provided a list of things to look for.

“Consider the A, B, C, D approach,” she said.

Asymmetry—Most early melanomas are asymmetrical: a line through the middle would not create matching halves. Common moles are round and symmetrical.

Border—The borders of early melanomas are often uneven and may have scalloped or notched edges. Common moles have smoother, more even borders.

Color—Common moles usually are a single shade of brown. Varied shades of brown, tan, or black are often the first sign of melanoma. As melanomas progress, the colors red, white and blue may appear.

Diameter—Early melanomas tend to grow larger than common moles—generally to at least the size of a pencil eraser (about 1/4 inch in diameter).

“If you spot any of these warning signs, see a doctor right away.” Collier said.

She recommends that farmers have someone check the back of their necks and the tips of their ears at least once a month. “You can’t see these areas yourself,” she said.

Some spots are worse than others. “Basal cells are not cancerous yet,” she said. But they should be attended to. “But melanomas are nasty,” and dangerous. “They are also like icebergs; seven-eighths of their mass is under the skin.”