A procedure with a new skin cancer-aging app made teens sun less and do more self-tests.
When it comes to skin cancer prevention, it’s never too early to start. Teens may think it only affects old people, but the evidence shows otherwise. The prevalence of skin cancer in teenagers has been increasing rapidly since the 1970s, and the fastest growing group are girls aged 15-19.
This is even more important in sunny Brazil, where tanning beds are very popular . And that makes it all the more important to educate young Brazilians about the risks of UV exposure, especially considering that up to 80% of people are exposed to the sun before the age of 14.
So a team of researchers set out to see if a face-aging mobile app could improve high school students’ skin cancer prevention behavior.
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They conducted an experiment with 1,573 Brazilian students in the southeastern city of Itauna. The participants were roughly equally divided between boys and girls, with an average age of just under 16 years. The experiment consisted of a one-time intervention, plus follow-up visits three and six months later.
Medical on-site students made classroom presentations in 52 classes distributed across eight public high schools. They altered the students’ selfies with an aging app called Sunface, developed by dermatologist (and co-author) Titus Brinker of University Hospital Essen, Germany.
Age history: a skin aging app as a wake-up call
Sunface is an age history app that shows what your future face would look like after years of exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) light emitted by the sun (and tanning beds). Dermatologists refer to these effects as “photoaging” (or sometimes dermatoheliosis). This includes visible skin damage in the form of premature wrinkles and dark spots.
Students could set the Age Progression app to show their face anywhere from 5 to 25 years in the future. They could also toggle exposure levels between no sun protection, good sun protection, and weekly tanning sessions.
The medical students projected the before and after selfies onto a screen for the whole class to see. They also provided additional information on protection against skin cancer.
Similarly, the young participants in the study provided information about their sun-worshipping behavior via anonymous questionnaires, both before the intervention and 3 and 6 months afterwards.
So does this aging app behavior of adolescents change?
The study found that their intervention resulted in significant improvements. These included more sunscreen use, healthier tanning habits, and more skin self-examination compared to a control group.
Specifically, the number of students who reported using sunscreen every day increased from 15% to 23 %. The number of those who have performed at least one skin self-examination has almost doubled from 25% to 49%. And the number of college students who reported tanning dropped from 19% to 15%. The intervention had a greater effect on the female students. The researchers observed no significant changes in the control group.
Progress: focus on boys
From these promising results, the study authors concluded that skin cancer app-based interventions such as Sunface actually work, at least in Brazil. They point out that researchers need to do more studies to determine if the effects apply to other groups in other places.
Future studies could also focus on maximizing these beneficial effects even more or promoting self-tanning rather than exposure to real sunlight. Specifically, researchers should look for ways to amplify the intervention’s impact on teenage boys. Although the intervention had a greater effect on women, men are actually more likely to develop skin cancer, such as melanoma.
Study: “Effect of a Face-Aging Mobile App-Based Intervention on Skin Cancer Protection Behavior in Secondary Schools in Brazil” (Link)Authors: Titus J. Brinker, Bianca Lisa Faria and Olber Moreira de Faria et al.Published in: JAMA DermatologyPublication date: July 2020DOI: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2020.0511Photo: by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels