Is that a Spot? Self-Screening for Skin Cancer

Investigators find visuals more effective than language when prompting people to self-screen for melanoma.

Individuals are more likely to self-screen for skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in the United States, after viewing images of UV skin damage, according to a new study from Brigham Young University (BYU) and the University of Utah.

Looking at pictures of UV skin damage caused participants to feel fear, making them more likely to participate in safer sun behaviors, such as wearing protective clothing or sunscreen, the study authors noted. Investigators found that participants were more likely to respond to visuals rather than fear-inducing language.

The study included 2200 adults between 18 and 89 years of age from around the country. Participants were shown 60 variations of pictures and facts. These images included both stock photos of people in the sun and images of moles that had been removed. Investigators also showed UV photos, in which participants were shown the impact of skin cancer not detectible by the bare eye.

Investigators found that the UV photos and a picture of a mole being removed were the most effective. The findings were published online in December 2018 prior to being printed in June 2019 in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

“Just talking about skin cancer, being inundated with facts and mortality rates, all of that is fear-inspiring language, but the images were so powerful that they moved people to intend to take action,” study co-author and assistant professor at BYU’s school of communications, Kevin John said in a press release.