Doctors try a new skin-cancer prevention campaign


For years, public health experts have tried to frighten adolescent girls away from tanning with the threat of skin cancer. Behavioral health researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center are launching a study this month that will take UV photographs of Houston-area middle school students, showing the damage they've already done to their skin. The stark photographs, researchers hope, will drive home the message that tanning to look good in the short term could have a long-term impact on attractiveness. The photographs reveal where UV exposure from either indoor or outdoor tanning has caused dark, freckled or pitted areas that can't be seen by the naked eye and don't show up on standard photos. The clinical trial also will measure the amount of damage on each face, then try to correlate that with patterns of sun exposure. The strategy is part of the emerging approach to skin cancer prevention using appearance-based intervention rather than scare tactics. Even proponents of UV photography aren't sure how well the pictures will predict actual skin cancer risk. A study by researchers at the University of Colorado, Denver took UV photographs of 800 students age 12 to 13 and found those with the traditional risk factors for melanoma - fair skin, red hair or freckles - also tended to have the most spots on their photos. Mycelle Dermaceuticals, a Colorado-based skin care products company, put UV cameras in select Whole Foods stores as a way to show customers their UV damage and to sell them skin care products. [...] there's evidence from social media that message is much more effective than raising the health risks of sun exposure. Public health experts hope that they can make many of the same gains that anti-tobacco efforts have achieved in changing how society views tanned skin to see it as a sign of skin damage rather than of health.

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