Veterans with Skin Cancer Lacked Awareness of Personal Risks

SAN ANTONIO — Veterans with skin cancer might not be as aware of the dangers of sun exposure or the necessity for skin protection as they should be.

In a study published recently in Military Medicine, researchers from the Audie L. Murphy Veterans’ Hospital and the University of Texas Health Science Center, both in San Antonio, sought to determine veterans’ perceptions of skin cancer and the types of prevention strategies that might reach that population.1

To do that, the study team conducted a telephone survey of 100 veterans who had been diagnosed with skin cancer at the VAMC.

Must of the respondents said their skin cancer resulted from sun exposure and that they knew that the best way to prevent skin cancer was to use sunscreen.

When asked if they believed they were at risk for being diagnosed with skin cancer, however, most veterans responded that they had thought they were at little risk and didn’t think skin cancer would happen to them.

The study found a statistically significant increase in usage of sunscreen and sun protectant garments after being diagnosed with skin cancer and educated by their physicians.

In fact, doctors talking to patients was rated as the most effective communication method to inform them about the risks of skin cancer, followed by education during basic training.

“Our results reveal poor patient awareness of the risks of skin cancer and the benefits of sun protection before their diagnosis,” study authors wrote, noting that “veterans agreed that the physician-patient interaction is the best and most effective means of communication, which is evident by the significant increase in sun protection and sunscreen usage after their diagnosis.”

Other effective communication strategies revealed by the survey included sun protection education in basic training, the use of a veteran spokesmodel with skin cancer, and the use of images to emphasize the severity of the disease.

1 Fisher V, Lee D, McGrath J, Krejci-Manwaring J. Veterans Speak Up: Current Warnings on Skin Cancer Miss the Target, Suggestions for Improvement. Mil Med. 2015 Aug;180(8):892-7. doi: 10.7205/MILMED-D-14-00318. PubMed PMID: 26226533.

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