Background: There is considerable evidence that exposure to ultraviolet radiation increases the risk of many dermatologic conditions including nonmelanoma skin cancers and the more serious cutaneous malignant melanoma. Despite this, there is little data on healthy persons' exposure patterns and protection behaviors.
Methods: As part of a larger survey for a cancer prevention demonstration program, a household survey of 3,843 adults ages 35-64 was conducted in four mid-size cities in Alberta, Canada. Self-administered questionnaires were used to collect data on sun-related knowledge, beliefs, occupational and recreational exposure and current protective behaviors.
Results: Only 45% of respondents believed sun exposure affected their chances of getting cancer. With few exceptions, less than 50% of either sex were likely to routinely use any of the four protective measures: avoiding the sun, protective clothing, hats, or sunscreen. This propensity was inadequate even for those with sun-sensitive skin types. Men and women differed in the type of protection preferred. Older adults were more likely to take precautionary measures.
Conclusions: There is clearly a need for modification of the public's beliefs and protective behaviors if the predicted skin cancer epidemic is to be avoided. Knowledge of protective behaviors and age- and gender-specific preferences will help in planning future research and health education programs.