Risk Awareness, Risk Reduction, and Early Detection Behaviors in Individuals at Heightened Genetic Risk of Melanoma
A number of studies have been conducted examining risk reduction via adoption of sun protection (including the use of sunscreen and protective clothing and shade seeking) and early-detection behaviors (including health care provider screening and skin self-examination) in individuals with a family history of melanoma. Overall, these studies indicate inconsistent adoption and maintenance of these behaviors. Most of these studies have been conducted with clinic-based populations that might be more prone to risk reduction and screening behaviors than those with a similar risk profile in the general population.
In terms of sun protection, in a Swedish population, 87 young adults with dysplastic nevi were surveyed, and 70% estimated their melanoma risk to be equal or lower than that of the Swedish population in general, and one third reported frequent sunbathing behavior. Another study examined 229 first-degree relatives (FDRs) referred by melanoma patients attending clinic appointments; those who were older, female, and had greater confidence in their ability to practice sun-protection were most likely to do so, but the utilization of sun-protective behavior was inconsistent. Another study in the United States examined sun-protective behavior in 100 FDRs of melanoma clinic patients and found that less than one-third of patients use sunscreen routinely when in the sun and that more regular usage was related to higher education levels, higher self-efficacy for sun protection, and higher perceived melanoma risk. Perceived severity of melanoma and response-efficacy were not related to adoption of sun-protective behaviors.
Another study based in the United Kingdom examined sunburn rates in 170 individuals with a family history of melanoma compared with 140 controls matched to age, sex, and geographical location. Of those with a melanoma family history, 31% reported sunburn in the previous summer (compared with 41% of controls); melanoma families reported better sun-protection behaviors than controls overall. Across controls and those with a family history of melanoma, younger males were more likely to report recent sunburns; also, across controls and those with a family history of melanoma, those relatives with atypical mole syndrome and a belief in their ability to prevent melanoma showed better sun protection.
One qualitative study of 20 FDRs of melanoma patients recruited from a high-risk clinic at the University of Arizona identified perceived unmet needs for physician communication of risk status, including greater consistency in communication, education for patients concerning the importance of family history to risk status, and needs and desire for more complex advice (e.g., reapplication of sunscreen and wearing clothing with ultraviolet protection factor).
There are also a number of studies that have examined early-detection behaviors in individuals at increased risk of melanoma. In a U.S. sample of 404 siblings drawn from a clinic population of melanoma patients, only 42% of individuals had ever seen a dermatologist; 62% had engaged in skin self-examination; 27% had received a physician skin examination; and only 54% routinely used sunscreen. Female gender was related to greater sunscreen use; those older than age 50 were more likely to have received a physician skin examination. Having a dermatologist was strongly related to all three outcomes (skin self-examination, physician examination, and sunscreen use). In a U.S. study of 229 FDRs referred by patients attending clinic, about half (55%) reported ever having a total cutaneous examination, and slightly more (71%) reported ever performing skin self-examination. Common predictors of skin examination (physician and self-examinations) included physician recommendation and low perceived barriers of screening. Interestingly, 14% of the sample had not told their primary care doctor about their sibling's melanoma diagnosis. One U.S. study showed that half (53%) of FDRs had never received a total cutaneous screening by a physician; only 27% had received a physician recommendation to have a screening. Early detection adherence was related to the following: higher education level, more melanoma risk factors, health care provider recommendation for screening, perceived risk of melanoma, and perceived severity of melanoma. Interestingly, parents of melanoma patients were less likely to have pursued screening than siblings and children.