Medical students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors with regard to skin cancer and sun-protective behaviors

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© 2018 American Osteopathic Association. Background: Skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the United States. Training medical students about the importance of sun-protective behaviors is critical to reducing skin cancer rates. However, minimal research has explored osteopathic medical students’ knowledge and behaviors with regard to the sun’s effect on skin health. Objective: To assess first-year osteopathic medical students’ knowledge about skin cancer and UV radiation, attitudes toward tanning, and sun-protective behaviors to establish baseline values. Methods: Using a descriptive, cross-sectional study design, the authors evaluated students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors through a quiz. Results: A total of 121 first-year osteopathic medical students completed the quiz. The mean (SD) score was 74.6% (11.5%). Two-thirds of participants (n=82) correctly identified basal cell carcinoma as the most common skin cancer, and the majority identified the ABCDs (asymmetry, border irregularity, color, and diameter) of melanoma detection (96 [79.3%], 106 [87.6%], 108 [89.3%], and 94 [77.7%], respectively). Most participants were aware that cloud cover and swimming underwater do not provide UV ray protection (121 [100%] and 109 [90.1%], respectively), a fact that is often misconceived. Forty participants (33.1%) usually or always used some form of sun protection when outdoors. Forty-seven participants (38.8%) believed that a tan makes one look healthy, and 43 participants (35.6%) sunbathed with the intention of tanning. Conclusion: Physicians are uniquely positioned to counsel patients regarding sunprotective behaviors. Thus, a medical school curriculum that includes education about the sun’s effect on health is needed for the prevention and early recognition of skin cancer in future patients.