Will Telling Someone They Have a High Risk of Skin Cancer Lead Them to Better Sun Protection?

Grantee: Peter A. Kanetsky, PhD, MPH
Institution: H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, Inc in Tampa, FL
Area of Research: Cancer Control and Prevention:  Health Policy and Health Service
Grant Term: 1/1/15 to 12/31/20

The Challenge: Skin cancer can be diagnosed in anyone, and it’s pretty well known that people with light-colored skin that freckles or burns easily are at increased risk for skin cancer, including melanoma. In previous research, Peter Kanetsky, PhD, MPH, found that people who have inherited certain changes or mutations in a gene called MC1R also have a higher risk of getting melanoma—even if they have darker skin and don’t burn quickly in the sun. The challenge is that they may not realize their risk.  

The Research: Kanetsky and his team wanted to know if telling people who have the MC1R mutation, about their increased risk for melanoma would it motivate them to better protect themselves from the sun.

As the leader of a clinical trial, Kanetsky tested participants for the gene variation and gave them a survey to learn about their concerns about developing melanoma and about how they had protected themselves and their children from the sun.

Then they randomly divided participants into two groups. They gave one group general information about how to reduce the risk of melanoma risk. The other group received personalized information about their specific risks, including whether they had the MC1R gene mutation.

All participants took the survey again at the end of the trial and 6 months and 1 year after it.

Kanetsky is now examining the results to see if receiving personalized information changed the behavior of people with the MC1R gene mutation. He’s specifically looking how whether they took more precautions to protect themselves and their children from the sun.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Kanetsky’s goal is to help more people—especially those with a high risk —understand their risk—and protect their skin from UV radiation to reduce the number of new cases of melanoma. He also wants to help more people survive melanoma by promoting early detection and treatment. 

Learn more about Dr. Kanetsky’s work: Sun Safety Isn't Just Important for the Light Complexioned