Purpose To longitudinally evaluate Orange County students' and teachers' knowledge, attitudes, and sun safety habits immediately before, immediately following, and 3 months after a skin cancer awareness presentation by medical students in local classrooms.
Methods As part of their Melanoma Awareness Project, University of California, Irvine (UCI) medical students developed a 55-minute curriculum aimed at 6-12th graders. Interactive throughout, the curriculum targets the culturally diverse students of Orange County, increasing understanding of skin, solar radiation, three major kinds of skin cancer, skin cancer self-screening, and tools for safer sun enjoyment. Beginning in January 2005, 1,200 students and their teachers from 5 Orange County middle and high schools completed a comprehensive baseline survey in their classrooms. The curriculum was presented, and then students completed a post-education survey. Three months later, the same group of students and teachers completed a final follow-up survey in class. The study protocol was reviewed and approved by the UCI Institutional Review Board (IRB).
Results Of the over 4,000 Orange County students educated using this curriculum in 2005, 1,200 consented to participate in this study and filled out surveys. The results presented will draw links between changes in student and teachers' sun safety knowledge, attitudes, and habits and epidemiologic factors such as ethnicity, age, gender, complexion, and previous sun exposure.
Conclusions Education of high school students to increase awareness of the sun's effects, and particularly of melanoma, is effective in increasing teens' knowledge and improving their attitudes regarding sun habits and skin self-screening. Given that melanoma is among the leading causes of life years lost due to preventable cancer, public education beginning with children and teens is clearly a worthwhile endeavor. To date, this work has contributed to adoption of the Melanoma Awareness Project by students at numerous other medical schools nationwide, with anticipated exponential increases in numbers of students reached over the next several years. In addition to teaching youngsters, the project is increasing awareness and suspicion of melanoma among future physicians across a variety of specialty interests.
This project is supported by the Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Medical Student Service Project Award.
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