Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Sun Safety Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviors among Beachgoing Adolescents

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Sun Safety Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviors among Beachgoing Adolescents

Article excerpt

Background: Skin cancer rates are rising and could be reduced with better sun protection behaviors. Adolescent exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is damaging because it can lead to skin cancer. This descriptive study extends understanding of adolescent sun exposure attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors. Methods: A sample of 423 beachgoing adolescents in Florida were interviewed over 4 days. Results: Adolescents did not know (63%) the peak hours of strongest UV exposure and nearly half planned to spend over 3 hours in the sun. Females were 2 times more likely to report wearing sunscreen less than SPF 15. Females were also 5 times as likely to intentionally tan and use tan enhancers. Respondents likely to sunburn reported better sunscreen usage and viewed a suntan less favorably. Of those surveyed, most believed that a suntan looked healthy (80%). Despite the reported risky sun behaviors, 67% thought that they were at risk of developing skin cancer. Discussion and Translation to Health Education Practice: Insufficient sun protection behaviors and sun safety knowledge were apparent. Appearance motivations trumped sun-safe behaviors and the threat of skin cancer. Interventions should include sun safety education as well as sociocultural strategies to reduce the societal valuation of suntans.


The most common form of cancer in the United States is skin cancer. (1) One out of every 5 people in the United States will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. (2) According to the National Cancer Institute, exposure to ultraviolet radiation increases skin cancer risk. (3) Knowledge of these risks and appropriate behaviors that minimize the risk of skin cancer are vital to reducing its incidence.

The 3 most common types of skin cancer include squamous and basal cell carcinomas and melanoma. Squamous and basal cell carcinomas are the most common forms of skin cancer and are rarely fatal. However, melanoma is the most lethal, especially when it becomes malignant. All 3 are curable when detected and treated early. Each year there will be 3.5 million basal and squamous cell cancers and 76 250 melanoma cases diagnosed, (4) and these numbers are increasing. Chronic sun exposure is the main cause of nonmelanoma skin cancer development.

Malignant melanoma can occur among all racial and ethnic groups. Melanoma's increasing frequency is associated with skin color, usually fair skin, and geographical area. Additionally, melanoma affects young people more frequently than nonmelanoma skin cancers. (5) The incidence age-adjusted rate for all races and both sexes was 21.0 per 100 000 between 2005 and 2009. (6) An estimated 12 190 deaths (9180 from melanoma and 3010 from other nonepithelial skin cancers) occurred in 2012. (4) This increase is attributed to several factors, primarily increased ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure, and also earlier detection and diagnosis of melanoma through more frequent screenings and advanced medical technologies. (7)

Skin cancer, specifically melanoma, is mostly preventable by avoiding ultraviolet radiation, particularly from sunlight, sunlamps, and tanning beds. Exposure to UV light is the single most modifiable risk factor for skin cancers. People with increased UV radiation exposure are at an increased risk for all 3 skin cancer types. About 86% of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet light. (8) For melanoma, major risk factors include a personal or family history of melanoma and the presence of atypical or numerous moles. Other risk factors for all types of skin cancers include sun sensitivity (sunburning easily, difficulty tanning, natural blond or red hair color); a history of excessive sun exposure, including sunburns; use of tanning booths; diseases that suppress the immune system; and a past history of basal and squamous cell skin cancers. (9)

Childhood and teenage UV exposure is damaging because it can lead to skin cancer later in life. …

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