Researchers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center are investigating the best ways to prevent melanoma — the most dangerous form of skin cancer — in children of patients with the disease.
The study is the first to examine sun protection practices in this group of children, says principal investigator Ellen R. Gritz, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Behavioral Science.
The American Cancer Society is funding the four-year $1.3 million study.
Investigators are developing and evaluating a behavioral program that educates parents who are also melanoma patients about how to best protect their children from the sun’s harmful rays, and ultimately, skin cancer.
"This is a family-based intervention,” says Gritz, who holds the Frank T. McGraw Chair in Cancer Prevention. “It is critical to develop effective risk-reduction strategies for high-risk individuals, such as the children of melanoma patients, so we can more effectively prevent these children from becoming patients themselves."
Melanoma is a preventable disease, but the number of new cases each year continues to increase. A family history of melanoma doubles the risk for developing melanoma, and children of melanoma patients are at higher risk for the disease.
"We want to impact behavior change in the families of melanoma patients, as well as develop a sun exposure prevention program for the general public," Gritz says.
When individuals are diagnosed with melanoma, they receive information about risk-reduction strategies, but this information may not include recommendations regarding their children.
In the study — which includes 560 M. D. Anderson melanoma patients and their children age 11 and younger — investigators are developing an intervention that includes targeted multi-media materials for patients and their children, to encourage them to adopt sun-safe habits.
“A program developed specifically for melanoma patients may be more effective in helping them protect their children, rather than having them rely on generic materials generally available to the public,” Gritz says. The findings of this study will determine if this patient-centered approach is more effective at increasing sun protection in high-risk children, rather than using sun-protection materials developed for the public.
“We want to increase patients’ protective practices to reduce their children’s sun exposure, increase patients’ self-protective practices and decrease the sun exposure levels of patients and their children,” she says.
About 55,100 individuals are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma in the United States in 2004, according to the American Cancer Society. An estimated 7,910 individuals will die of the disease during 2004.
If you’re concerned about a skin lesion or a change in a mole or freckle, call M. D. Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center at (713) 745-8040 to schedule an appointment in the Undiagnosed Skin Clinic, or schedule an appointment online at mdanderson.org. For information about cancer, call the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER.
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