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Those at high risk for skin cancer burnt by own behaviour

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Published: 17 May 2005

Those considered high risk for melanoma — the most dangerous form of skin cancer — are no more likely to sunbathe protected than those who are unaware of their risk, according to a new study conducted by MUHC researchers.

Those considered high risk for melanoma — the most dangerous form of skin cancer — are no more likely to sunbathe protected than those who are unaware of their risk, according to a new study conducted by MUHC researchers. The study, published in the Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, examined the behaviour of melanoma patients in order to assess the efficacy of sun-awareness and protection campaigns.

"Patients with a personal or family history of melanoma, or that burn easily in the sun, are considered high risk for melanoma, and should take extra care in the sun," says Dr. Beatrice Wang, a dermatologist at the MUHC and assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at McGill. "Our results suggest that high-risk patients were no more likely to take proper precautions in the sun than the entire cohort studied." Those considered high risk exhibited similar sunbathing patterns, use of indoor tanning beds and frequency of sunscreen and protective clothing use. Incredibly, the high-risk group even used, on average, a lower factor sunscreen (11 SPF for the high-risk group, compared to 18 SPF overall).

Sun-awareness campaigns increase public knowledge but may not translate into behavioural changes in practice, which is particularly alarming when reported for individuals in high-risk groups. "This problem is also encountered by health professionals who educate people to quit smoking, lose weight and exercise more," says Dr. Wang. "It seems we are all teenagers inside, and believe we are invincible to the cumulative dangers of these activities."

Immediately after diagnosis for melanoma, however, patients made significant changes to reduce their sun exposure. After diagnosis, 79% of patients avoided sunbathing (compared to 28% pre-diagnosis); 93% used sunscreen (compared to 69% pre-diagnosis); and 85% used protective clothing (compared to 31% pre-diagnosis). "Malignant melanoma is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide," says Dr. Wang. "Prevention is the key to reducing deaths; as such it is vital that we continually assess and improve our education and awareness campaigns."

Study title: Impact of melanoma diagnosis on sun-awareness and protection: efficacy of education campaigns in a high-risk population
Publication: Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery
Authors: Anatoli Freiman, John Yu, Antoine Loutfi and Beatrice Wang

The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) is a comprehensive academic health institution with an international reputation for excellence in clinical programs, research and teaching. The MUHC is a merger of five teaching hospitals affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University — the Montreal Children's, Montreal General, Royal Victoria, and Montreal Neurological Hospitals, as well as the Montreal Chest Institute. Building on the tradition of medical leadership of the founding hospitals, the goal of the MUHC is to provide patient care based on the most advanced knowledge in the health care field, and to contribute to the development of new knowledge.

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