While most of North America is struggling with a cold winter, researchers from the land down under are studying how text messages can reduce the risk of skin cancer.
A 12-month study by the Cancer Council of Queensland and University of Queensland targeted individuals aged between 18 and 42 — an age group in which mobile phone use is almost universal.
Investigators tested the impact and value of SMS-delivered messages which promoted sun protection along with skin self-examination for early detection of skin cancer, while a third group received texts encouraging physical activity.
Weekly texts for the first 12 weeks were followed by monthly text messages for another nine months and a final in-depth telephone interview was conducted.
Study results have been published in the international journal Preventative Medicine.
Lead investigator Associate Professor Monika Janda said the study involved more than 500 participants and concluded that SMS-delivered intervention was effective, far-reaching, flexible, and individualized.
“Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer incidence in the world and melanoma is the most common cancer in those aged 15-44,” Associate Professor Janda said.
“SMS messages are an acceptable and feasible way to reach people, particularly those under 45, with personalized skin cancer prevention texts which take into account a person’s age, skin type, gender, and risk factors.”
The text messages reminded recipients to wear sunscreen and sun smart clothing as well as limit their time in the sun between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm. They also asked participants whether they or someone other than a doctor, such as a spouse or partner, had checked any part of their skin for early signs of skin cancer.
“Text messages are conversational in tone and those used for the trial were designed to suggest and reinforce understanding and behavioral skills in relation to skin cancer prevention and early detection of symptoms,” Professor Janda said.
“They are highly effective in promoting personal responsibility and providing positive reinforcement.
“By the end of the 12 months, the self-reported sun protection habits of those who participated in the sun protection and skin self-examination groups showed significant improvement.
The proportion conducting any skin self-examination, not specifically of the whole-body, significantly increased in the skin self-examination group from 37 per cent to 63 percent.
“The final sample concluded that those who participated in the trial were probably more health conscious than the general population of a similar age.
“It was pleasing to see the improvements, and it may be possible to see greater improvements in people who are less health conscious.”
Katie Clift from Cancer Council Queensland said the implications of the trial outcomes were very encouraging.
“Delivering health messages to young Queenslanders to inspire a change of lifestyle can be very challenging,” Ms Clift said.
“It’s exciting to think the use of a simple text message, as seen in this trial, may help to reduce skin cancer risk in the future.
Researchers say that in the future a subscription database could be set up that sends ongoing text messages to trigger greater sun protection awareness, promote skin self-examination for early detection and reduce the rates of skin cancer.
“Many participants in our trial would have liked more regular SMS messages and I think future research could incorporate multimedia messages and the opportunity for individuals to have an input into programs to allow them to control the timing and frequency of the messages,” say Janda.