Mar 01, 2020 8:00 AM


Yelena Wu, PhD, Assistant Professor, Dermatology Melanoma Researcher Huntsman Cancer Institute
Yelena Wu, PhD
Assistant Professor, Dermatology Melanoma Researcher Huntsman Cancer Institute

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Utah has the highest rate of melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—in the United States. Factors such as high altitude and residents who enjoy outdoor activities such as skiing and hiking contribute to the risk. At Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), our commitment to addressing this major medical challenge spans our mission—from research and care to education.

Preventing melanoma begins with teaching kids to protect their skin from the sun, says HCI researcher Yelena Wu, PhD.

By instilling good health habits in children early in life, we increase the likelihood those health habits will continue throughout their lives and be shared with other family members in the future.

Yelena Wu, PhD
Assistant Professor, Dermatology
Melanoma Researcher
Huntsman Cancer Institute

“The main modifiable risk factors for melanoma—ultraviolet radiation exposure and severe sunburns—occur during childhood,” says Wu. “Childhood is the ideal time to ingrain beneficial health habits, including around sun protection.”

In 2019, Wu received a competitive grant from the American Cancer Society to test a way to prevent melanoma in families with a parent who had the disease.

“We want to know whether the intervention we developed will help improve and sustain children’s use of melanoma prevention strategies—such as sunscreen use and protective clothing use—and prevent them from getting sunburns,” Wu says.

Wu and her team also received a grant from the National Cancer Institute to promote school-based efforts focused on skin cancer prevention. The Skin Cancer UNderstanding (SUN) in Schools study found significant increases in high school students’ reported frequency of sun protection use associated with different interventions that Wu and her team implemented. Using UV photography to show students their sun damage resulted in better control of their intentional tanning behaviors and sunburn occurrence. An action plan worksheet students completed resulted in greater increases in sun protection behaviors.

Comparison of a regular photograph and an image seen through an ultraviolet (UV) camera. The dark areas indicate sun damage.
Comparison of a regular photograph and an image seen through an ultraviolet (UV) camera. The dark areas indicate sun damage.

In addition, Wu collaborated with HCI’s Community Outreach team and the Utah State Board of Education to update the Utah Core Standards for Health Education—which hadn’t been updated since 1997. The Core Standards now include education about ways to protect your skin and prevent skin cancer.

Jodi Parker, a health and physical education specialist at the Utah State Board of Education and an HCI Community Advisory Board member, said revising the standards presented the opportunity to improve health outcomes among Utah students.

“The resources we received from HCI have medically accurate information teachers can use when developing their lessons and curriculum for students,” she says. “We hope these standards and resources will, in time, show a reduction in disease, including skin cancers.”

Learn more: huntsmancancer.org/prevention

community report melanoma sun safety skin cancer cancer prevention Cancer Control and Population Sciences

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