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Study shows need for customized skin cancer prevention programs

People who attend skin cancer screening events observe better sun safety practices compared to the general public, according to a study conducted by the George Washington University Cancer Center. The research, published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology (July 2019), suggests comprehensive skin cancer prevention programs could reach a more diverse population, with the goal of reducing skin cancers in all patients.

Using a survey administered at random at six locations around Washington, D.C., and to attendees of a free cancer screening event at George Washington University, researchers found that respondents from the screening event were more likely to wear sunscreen, seek shade and wear sun-protective clothing compared to the public group.

The data suggests that those who typically do not attend free screenings may have larger gaps in sun protective knowledge and practices further amplifying the need to educate this population on the dangers of the sun’s harmful UV rays.

The survey respondents were analyzed by age and race to examine further disparities. Participants who identified as white were more likely to always or sometimes wear sunscreen and use sun-protective clothing compared to non-white participants. Patients over 61 years of age were more likely to seek shade and wear sun-protective clothing than those younger than 31.

“These findings highlight the importance of tailoring free skin cancer screening events for non-white and younger populations,” said Dr. Adam Friedman, a senior author on the study, in a press release. Dr. Friedman is also the interim chair of the Department of Dermatology at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the director of the Supportive Oncodermatology Clinic at the George Washington University Cancer Center.

“While free screening events are important, we also have to think about comprehensive, community-based solutions that reach broader demographic populations than skin cancer screenings alone.”

Additionally, white patients in the study reported more blistering sunburns than non-white participants, as well as more use of indoor tanning. Indoor tanning use was equal among the screening group and general public group, suggesting all patients need further education on the risks of indoor tanning.

The Community Preventive Services Task Force, an independent, non-federal panel of public health and prevention experts, suggests a multifaceted approach combining individually focused strategies, educational campaigns, and environmental or policy changes to influence sun safety behaviours.

Other recommendations include education and policy approaches in primary school and outdoor recreation settings.

“This study also highlights the importance of reaching non-white populations with skin cancer prevention messages,” said Dr. Friedman. “We have to address the myth that skin cancer only affects fair-skinned individuals. Skin cancer does not discriminate and therefore we need to encourage sun safety practices among all individuals.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Proper sun safety practices such as wearing sunscreen, seeking shade, and wearing sun-protective clothing are important to reducing the risk for skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

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