Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Shining a Light on Skin Cancer

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Shining a Light on Skin Cancer

Article excerpt

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. One in five Americans will get skin cancer someday, with melanoma--a potentially lethal form of skin cancer--the second most common form of cancer for Americans ages 15 to 29 (Bleyer et al. 2006).

Students should know how to protect themselves against skin cancer because "just one sunburn during childhood doubles your risk of getting skin cancer later in life," says Dawn Holman, a behavioral scientist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a podcast (see "On the web").

Teens may be at particular risk because most high school students don't use sunscreen, according to a CDC survey (Jones et al. 2012). Another CDC study reports that 16% of high school students use indoor tanning devices (Guy, Tai, and Richardson 2011), which can also damage skin. Yet, misconceptions about tanning are widespread. A survey of 7,000 adults (AAD 2010) showed that 52% believed a base tan protects skin from the sun. In fact, a tan is a sign of ultraviolet (UV) damage. In addition, 79% of respondents believed SPF 30 sunscreen provides twice the protection of SPF 15. In fact, a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 screens 97% of UVB rays; SPF 15 screens 93%, and SPF 2 screens 50%, the ADD notes.

Your students can protect themselves from skin cancer by:

* Wearing sunscreen every day

* Avoiding indoor tanning devices (sunless chemical tanners are safer as long as they're not sprayed on, leading to inhalation).

Make sure sunscreen labels cite:

* SPF of 15 or higher

* Broad-spectrum (to block both UVA and UVB rays)

* Water resistance

Remember to:

* Use at least 1 ounce of sunscreen (six teaspoons)

* Reapply sunscreen every two hours, even on cloudy days

* Reapply sunscreen after swimming or sweating

* Take breaks from the sun when rays are strongest, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Classroom activity

This activity will help your students dispel skin cancer myths among other teens in their grade, school, or community. First, have students decode the alphabet soup of sunscreen-related acronyms: SPF, UV, UVA, UVB, DHA, FDA (see "On the web" for research resources).

Next, download and print copies of the Health Wise student survey (see "On the web"), which lists 10 skin cancer myths. Have students conduct a poll by reading the survey's 10 "true or false" statements to other students and recording their responses. …

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