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Can SMS Bolster Skin Cancer Prevention?

Summer is in full swing, and for many of us, months of bright and sunny weather lie ahead. But before you pack the car and head to the beach, are you making sure you're protecting yourself from sun damage? If you find yourself forgetting the sunscreen or the hat a little too often, a new study from Australia may have a solution for you-- and that solution takes the form of texting.

Sun protection is of huge importance. We're hardly used to looking at a sunburn as a huge deal, but even one severe sunburn in one's childhood, or only five sunburns throughout one's life, can double one's risk of skin cancer, specifically melanoma. For our health and safety, it is critical to practice good sun protection habits.

The study, funded by Cancer Australia and conducted by the Queensland Unitersity of Technology; the University of Queensland; and Cancer Council Queensland, was published in early 2015 in the journal Preventative Medicine. Its intent was to discover the impact of a text messaging program about sun safety on the preventative behaviors of participants aged 18 to 42.

Participants were subscribed to a series of text messages for the duration of one year. The texts encouraged diligent sun protection habits, such as the use of sunscreen and avoiding full sun exposure during peak hours. They also asked if participants were checking, or having someone other than a doctor check, their skin for early signs of cancer. The texts were sent weekly for 12 weeks, after which they declined in frequency to once a month for the remaining nine months of the study. At the end of the year-long study, each participant engaged in an in-depth phone interview regarding the study.

The implications of this study are big. Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer, making the search for more effective ways to encourage good sun protection habits hugely important for the nation. Additionally, the highest incidence of melanoma occurs in the 15-44 age group, which coincides closely with the age group that most avidly sends and receives text messages. Texting is therefore already poised to best reach the demographic that most needs to be reached when it comes to sun safety.

With big implications come big results, and this study does not disappoint. A significant increase was observed in self-examination of at least some part of the skin, which was practiced by 37 percent of the participants at the beginning of the study and a majority of 63 percent at its conclusion. While there is work to do, this study presents a promising leap in sun safety as well as another notable innovation at the intersection of texting and medicine. It is clear that SMS is a powerful resource to be tapped in the effort to expand good sun safety practices.

About the Author -
Sharon Housley is the VP of Marketing for NotePage, Inc. a software company for communication software solutions. http://www.notepage.net

 

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