It is not without pride that each spring the LHSFNA announces its skin cancer prevention campaign, known as Sun Sense.  The 2007 campaign kicks off this week.

First launched in 1995, the campaign has changed the attitude of LIUNA members when it comes to solar protection.  “Summer used to be the time for Laborers to take off their shirts and work on their tans,” recalls LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan.  “Sunscreen was unheard of.  But thanks to the Sun Sense campaign and a few members who have stepped forward to tell their stories, we’ve all learned that skin cancer is a serious problem among us, and we need to take precautions.”

The stories tell of members– even those of ethnic backgrounds with darker skin tones – who developed skin cancers after years of working outdoors in the summer sun.  Research offers some explanation.

  • Skin cancer develops slowly, often many years after serious, youthful exposures and burns.
  • Men are about 40 percent more likely to develop the most serious skin cancer, melanoma, than women.
  • Laborers smoke at twice the national average, and smoking is associated with higher rates of squamous cancer and poorer prognoses for melanoma, especially among men.
  • Melanoma rates are rising twice as fast among Latino men as among white men.
  • Young men are less likely to use sunscreen than young women or older men.


  • Sunscreen is a must, SPF 15 or higher.
  • Apply 30 minutes before going out and every two hours afterwards.  Be generous when applying and be sure to cover the face, neck and ears.
  • Use SPF 15 lip balm and wear UV protection sunglasses.
  • Use a neck flap to protect the back of the neck and ears.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Check medications for solar-sensitivity and talk to your doctor about possible reactions.
  • Check your skin regularly for changes in the symmetry, borders, color and diameter of moles; for new growths and for persistent patches or sores that do not heal.  If you find danger signs, see your doctor.

“While it is impossible to know precisely how extensively Laborers are using sunscreen, we’re certain there’s been an increase since we established the Sun Sense program,” says the LHSFNA Health Promotion Division Director Mary Jane MacArthur.  “Since its inception, there’s been a steady increase each year in the number of materials and products requested.  Many Laborers have caught on, and they’re spreading the word throughout the union.”

This year, the campaign will distribute over 60,000 SPF 30 sunscreen towelettes (each with bug repellant as well), 47,000 lip balms and 20,000 neck flaps.  While these meet only a fraction of the total need, they stimulate the adoption of protective behaviors and encourage Laborers to buy personal supplies when the Fund’s supply runs out.

The campaign also distributes 9,000 specially designed bookmarks from the American Academy of Dermatology that display the cancer danger signs of changing moles or skin pigmentation.  These cards encourage Laborers to look for signs of melanoma and get to a doctor if any appear.  Also available from the Fund are four skin cancer prevention posters.

“We know the campaign works because we frequently hear of Laborers who went to the doctor after learning of the risks and noticing changes in their skin,” says MacArthur.  “If diagnosed and treated early, skin cancer can be cured.”

One new tool in the awareness campaign is the Laborers’ True Stories DVD, published this year by the LHSFNA.  One of the four seven-minute stories on the DVD is that of Mike Cackowski, a New Jersey Laborer and Training Director who discovered two melanomas as a result of information he received through the Sun Sense campaign.

The Sun Sense campaign reaches out to Laborers through the Laborers-AGC training centers, LIUNA regional offices, regional health and safety funds, LIUNA Tri-Fund field coordinators, District Councils, local unions and health and welfare funds throughout the United States and Canada.  For more information, call the Health Promotion Division.

[Steve Clark]