Do Family Members of Melanoma Patients Use Sun Protection Behaviors?

The American Cancer Society estimates that 10,000 people a year will die from melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer primarily caused by sun exposure. First-degree relatives of melanoma patients, such as parents and children, are at particularly high risk for developing melanoma themselves. One would imagine that with higher risk of developing skin cancer, first-degree relatives of melanoma patients would be more likely to engage in sun protective behaviors than others. However, is this actually the case?

A study recently published in Health Psychology examined the use of four sun-protective behaviors: sunscreen usage, shade-seeking, hat wearing, and protective clothing use among first-degree relatives of melanoma patients. The researchers assessed these behaviors twice a day in 59 participants over 14-days using an automated phone call system. Data collected from daily surveys over multiple days allows researchers to examine and understand behavior in real-time, and allows for exploring changes in behavior within individual participants that increases confidence in the reliability and robustness of the findings.

Among the four behaviors examined, sunscreen use was most frequent, followed by shade seeking, wearing hats, and wearing protective clothing. However, the majority of participants reported inconsistent use of these behaviors meaning most participants used each sun protection behavior less than 80% of the time. In addition, the study found that the factors leading to sun protective behaviors were different for different participants. This means that different environmental factors, such as time of day and level of sun exposure, influenced individual’s use of sun protection behaviors. This finding is important because it indicates that sun protection interventions may need to target people’s own reasons for using sun protection behavior.

Taken together, sun protection behaviors are inconsistently used in individuals at increased risk of developing skin cancer. Moreover, factors leading to sun protective behaviors vary for different individuals. Future research should examine associations between multiple sun protection behaviors, and develop personally tailored interventions to increase individuals’ use of sun protection behaviors.

Reference: Hay, J.L., Shuk, E., Schofield, E., Loeb, R., Holland, S., Burkhalter, J., & Li, Y. (2017). Real-time sun protection decisions in first-degree relatives of melanoma patients. Health Psychology, 36, 907-915.

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