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23-12-2010 | Article

Images of skin damage improve sun protection behavior


Free abstract

MedWire News: Showing people imaging photos highlighting sun damage on their skin could be an effective way of getting them to improve their sun protection behaviors and awareness of suspect moles, researchers report.

They found that this technique, called biometric feedback, enhanced the effect of standard skin cancer prevention education, which covers basic skin cancer knowledge, sun protection information, and signs and symptoms of common cancers.

Karen Emmons, from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, and colleagues investigated the effects of biometric feedback on 596 beachgoers, on site at the beach, comparing skin cancer prevention education alone with education plus biometric feedback.

Most of the participants in the study were deemed to be at high risk for skin cancer due to having a fair complexion and a history of sunburn; despite this, sun protection practices were generally relatively poor at the start of the study.

After receiving skin cancer prevention education and biometric feedback, however, participants were twice as likely to wear hats and use sunscreen as before. There was also a significant reduction in sunburns and people were 13% more likely to know what to look for when self-examining their skin.

These improvements were greater than those seen among people receiving skin cancer prevention education alone.

The researchers note in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology that also undergoing a skin examination by a dermatologist did not add to the effects of biometric feedback. They suggest that this is likely to be because, in the majority of cases, the examination did not find suspicious lesions, "and may have not provided a threat component."

The team comments that it is this threat component, or fear factor, that is likely to be the reason for the success of biometric feedback, as the images graphically emphasize the severity of skin damage and a person's susceptibility to skin cancer. The skin cancer prevention education then provides messages about recommended actions that help patients protect themselves and prevent further damage.

Emmons and colleagues add that delivering biometric feedback at the beach could "identify a substantial number of people who could benefit from early detection."

They conclude that their results provide "additional support for the beach as an important site for reaching and intervening with individuals who are at increased risk for skin cancer."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Current Medicine Group, a trading division of Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2010

By Lucy Piper