The SCOPE Project: Educating Sun Lovers About Skin Cancer

Being active outdoors has its benefits. But as the Patient and Public Education (PPE) Department at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) wants to remind everyone, it has risks too. Ultraviolet rays from the sun can damage skin and lead to skin cancer. So as part of HCI’s mission to provide information about cancer risk and prevention to the public, the Skin Cancer Outdoor Prevention Education (SCOPE) project reaches out to people who recreate outdoors, reminding them about the risks of sun exposure and what they can do to minimize those risks.

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Jeff Yancey discusses the scanner that shows users their underlying skin damage due to sun exposure.

 

Jeff Yancey, a health educator with HCI’s PPE team who is involved in the project, says such reminders are important. “Because the time difference between sun exposure and the development of skin cancer can be so long, people, especially young people, have a difficult time understanding the risks of sun exposure,” says Yancey.

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These images from the scanner compare the damage from sun exposure 
(shown as freckle-like brown spots) of two fair-skinned women. 
Left, a 33 year old, and right, a 21 year old.

 

The SCOPE project began during the fall of 2010 and will continue through the summer of 2011. Health educators will set up booths at ski resorts, swimming pools, golf courses, and youth sports leagues. They will provide sunblock samples, UV-sensitive bracelets, and health education. At some venues, visitors can look at their skin under a scanner that reveals underlying damage not yet visible on the surface. “People are surprised at the damage—particularly those who are young and have little damage visible on the surface,” says Yancey.

Visitors who agree to participate will receive a follow-up survey four weeks later to assess changes in their knowledge and behavior regarding skin damage from the sun. The study will compare these changes among those who viewed their skin through the scanner and those who did not. Learn more about protecting yourself from skin cancer by reading the SCOPE card.

The Radon Project: Helping the Public Take Action

The residents of Monticello, Utah, are anxious about cancer. And no wonder—from 1943 to 1960, a uranium and vanadium processing mill was located right next to town, and the citizens are certain they were exposed to high levels of radiation and toxic chemicals. The town’s residents campaigned to have the Utah Department of Health perform a cancer incidence study. When the study came out in 2006, it reported that general cancer rates were not higher than the rest of Utah except in one area—lung cancer rates.

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Lori Maness

 

When the PPE Department’s Community Outreach and Prevention Education (COPE) program visited Monticello in 2009, the anger, fear, and hopelessness were still apparent. Lori Maness, HCI outreach coordinator for COPE, saw how hopeless the citizens felt and wanted to help them channel their anger and anxiety into positive action. “We wanted to find a way for them to take ownership of the situation instead of having a fatalistic view,” she says.

Maness wondered if homes in the area had been checked for radon, a contributor to lung cancer. She and her outreach team provided information to Monticello citizens through the local media about how to obtain a free radon test kit. The team then evaluated the results from the lab.

“We found the test results supported our hypothesis that there were higher levels of radon in the Monticello area,” says Maness. “This may partially account for the elevated risk of lung cancer in the area.”

For households reporting higher-than-normal levels of radon, the study team sent pamphlets with information about fixing the problem, as well as a list of certified radon services in the area.

The radon project is one example of how HCI extends its mission of hope to the public. Says Maness, “We showed them you can do something to reduce your risk of cancer, rather than just feeling helpless.”