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Skin Cancer: Healthcare Settings and Providers


What the CPSTF Found

About The Systematic Review

The CPSTF finding is based on evidence from a systematic review of 11 studies (search period through June 2000). The review was conducted on behalf of the CPSTF by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice, and policy related to preventing skin cancer.


The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends counseling children, adolescents, and young adults aged 10 to 24 years who have fair skin about minimizing their exposure to ultraviolet radiation to reduce risk for skin cancer. Evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of counseling adults older than age 24 years about minimizing risks to prevent skin cancer (USPSTF 2012).

The Community Guide review expands on the USPSTF review by evaluating a broader range of providers and by including system approaches not limited to providers.

Summary of Results

Eleven studies qualified for the review.

  • Only two assessed reducing UV exposure or increasing sun-protective behavior, and results were inconsistent.
  • Several studies showed improvements in intermediate outcomes, such as changes in knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and intentions of providers.

Summary of Economic Evidence

An economic review of this intervention was not conducted because CPSTF did not have enough information to determine if the intervention works.


Applicability of this intervention across different settings and populations was not assessed because CPSTF did not have enough information to determine if the intervention works.

Evidence Gaps

The CPSTF identified several areas that have limited information. Additional research and evaluation could help fill remaining gaps in the evidence base. (What are evidence gaps?)

The following outlines evidence gaps from these reviews of interventions to prevent skin cancer:  Community-Wide, Mass Media Campaigns (archived); Community-Wide, Multicomponent Interventions (archived); Education and Policy Approaches for Healthcare Settings and Providers; Education and Policy Approaches in Child Care Centers (archived); Education and Policy Approaches in Primary School Settings (archived); Education and Policy Approaches in Secondary Schools and Colleges (archived); Education and Policy Approaches in Outdoor Occupational Settings (archived); Education and Policy Approaches in Outdoor Recreational Settings (archived); Interventions Targeting Children’s Parents and Caregivers.

Design and Analysis Considerations

  • All of the designs included in this review have important strengths and weaknesses.
  • Additional diverse approaches are worth pursuing, in terms of study design and execution, and with attention both to internal and external validity.
  • Consistently rigorous analytic methods are needed, and future studies should control for relevant confounders, such as risk levels and weather conditions.

Description of Target Population and Context

  • Several reports in this area of research did not contain basic descriptions of the intervention or population.
  • In many instances, the distribution of the population by race and ethnicity or sun sensitivity was not described.
  • Many of the settings could have been better described.
  • Better descriptions are needed of annual UV exposure in the places in which studies were conducted.
  • Better descriptions of these important issues would help assess the likely applicability of the findings or explain any variability of effects.

Description of Intervention

  • It was difficult to disentangle what specific intervention components were, or how much emphasis there was on primary prevention (versus early detection) or on promoting use of sunscreen versus on covering-up or sun-avoidance behaviors.
  • Further information is needed on which attributes of the interventions contribute most to intervention effectiveness or ineffectiveness (e.g., do policy components or education components contribute more to intervention effectiveness; what are the central "active ingredients" in complex interventions).
  • Describing intervention characteristics in greater detail might also help practitioners replicate successes.

Duration of Interventions and Length of Follow up

  • Given the seasonality of sun-protective behaviors and the importance of encouraging habitual as opposed to short-term behavior change, a longer follow-up is crucial.

Intervention Quality

  • An encouraging trend can be seen in increasing use of formative research and pre-testing of interventions before they are implemented.
  • Mediating factors deserve greater attention and need to be correlated with behavior changes. To date, few studies in this area of research have reported on both mediating factors and behavioral or health outcomes.
  • A need also exists to develop measures of the effects of environmental and policy change strategies. Few interventions addressed policy or environmental changes and in those that did, the effects of the policy or environmental components could not be disentangled from other aspects of the intervention.

Measurement of Exposure

  • Few studies reported process evaluation data, which can help to assess how much of the intervention was actually implemented.
  • Improvement in this area would be helpful, especially for interventions of longer duration and increased complexity.

Measurement of Outcomes

  • More behavioral and health outcomes need to be examined.
    • Given recent concerns about the adequacy of sunscreen as a sole protective strategy, additional behavioral and health outcomes should also be measured.
    • Outcomes need to be similar to evaluate effectiveness.
    • Measurement of specific sun-protective behaviors is important.
    • More interventions with a greater focus on covering up and sun- avoidance, and a decreased emphasis on sunscreen use are needed.
  • Given recent research findings on the effectiveness of sunscreens, more detailed research on sunscreen use is needed.
    • Are higher SPF sunscreens being used?
    • Does sunscreen use extend the amount of time out in the sun?
  • How do different sun-protective behaviors interact (e.g., does seeking shade make wearing sunscreen or a hat unnecessary)?
  • Further work is needed to increase consistency between at least a core set of behavior change measures that can be used to compare and contrast study results.

Research Needs and Work in Progress

The field of behavior change for skin cancer prevention has progressed significantly, but important areas for further advancement exist. As outlined above, these include design, measurement, better description of interventions, development of a better understanding of how environmental and policy interventions work, and studies in multiethnic populations. The use of new communication technology and international collaborations can make significant contributions in these areas. The team hopes that the availability of systematic reviews that identify both progress to date and the remaining gaps will help to reduce the gaps in available research.

  • Specific Research Issues. Although most of the evidence gaps described above were general and could explain why most setting specific categories did not produce sufficient evidence to determine effectiveness, a few research issues were specific to the setting or target group.
  • Interventions for Secondary Schools. More studies are needed to examine sun-protective behaviors of adolescents and young adults, and to determine what kind of approach might work best in this population, especially given the low baseline prevalence of sun-protective behaviors.
  • Interventions in Occupational Settings. Studies that target the most common outdoor occupational workers—mail carriers, agricultural workers, landscapers, horticulturists, foresters, construction workers, telephone line workers, commercial fishery workers, land surveyors and mappers, oil field workers, amusement park attendants, and athletes—are needed.
  • Interventions in Healthcare Settings. Almost all studies in this category examined the counseling behavior of the provider and not the patient. More studies that examine the behavioral or health outcome of the end user—the patient—are needed. In this small subset of studies, the provider was most often a physician or a physician-in-training, but studies examining the role of the nonphysician provider would help identify whether counseling skills to change behavior might be better suited for providers with the time and skills, such as a nurse or a health educator. Additionally, more studies are needed to examine healthcare system studies oriented directly to patients.
  • Interventions for Parents and Caregivers. Studies are needed to examine the effect of interventions on nonparental caregivers, as it is becoming increasingly common for children to be cared for by nonparental caregivers while both parents are at work outside the home.
  • Interventions in Multicomponent Community Settings. Approaches to better define the "active ingredients" (i.e., the most important components that contribute to the success of these interventions) would be helpful, as would determining the applicability of these interventions to the U.S. population.

Study Characteristics

Included studies varied widely in their target audiences (e.g., different types of healthcare providers and clients in different settings), intervention content (e.g., didactic, role playing, messaging), and methods for delivery (e.g., Internet, videotapes).