August 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 4 // Ideas at Work // 4IAW4

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A Skin Cancer Prevention Program for Farm Youth

This paper discusses the importance of teaching children good skin cancer prevention behaviors and offers a model for Extension agents to use in potential programs. The model, formulated and practiced by the Georgia Harvesting Healthy Habits project group, provides cognitive and behavioral rehearsal of three key skin cancer preventative strategies--use of sunscreens, wide brimmed tightly woven cloth hats, and skin self exams. The program has been used for four consecutive years at a Farm Safety Camp held at Abraham Baldwin College. The program is one easily adapted for 4-H meetings and other Extension settings. Adults, too, may benefit from a similar program and the opportunity to try these recommended skin cancer prevention practices.

Roxanne Parrott
Associate Professor
Health Communication Office
Department of Speech Communications
University of Georgia
Athens, Georgia
Internet address:

Tricia Stuart
Customer Service Representative
Graphics Composition, Inc.
Athens, Georgia

Dawn Lewis
Consumer Science Instructor
Coffee High School
Douglas, Georgia

Because outdoor workers such as farmers are more likely to get skin cancer than others (Blair, Malker, Cantor, Burmeister & Wiklund, 1985), and because intense intermittent exposure to sunlight poses a risk factor for malignant melanoma, particularly when the exposure occurs in the first 15 years of life (Holman & Armstrong, 1984), farm children are a uniquely important target for skin cancer prevention programs. The Georgia Harvesting Healthy Habits program developed a sun safety and skin cancer prevention program which was implemented at the annual Farm Safety Camp held at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton.

The curriculum for this program is appropriate for use in camp settings, 4-H meetings, and other Extension education venues. Designed for youth between the ages of 10-13, the program promotes use of sunscreen and sun protective hats as simple skin cancer prevention tools. It also gives the youths an opportunity to learn how to conduct a skin self-exam. The program can range from one to two hours long and can be easily adapted to many settings in order to teach children about skin cancer prevention.

The first part of the Harvesting Healthy Habits curriculum consists of a seminar introducing children to the concepts of skin, cancer, and skin cancer. The participants receive fact sheets explaining the three concepts in basic terms. The educator leads a group discussion of the fact sheets. Once the basic concepts have been presented, the educator explains the causes of skin cancer, the three different types of skin cancer, who is at greatest risk for the disease, and the importance of developing prevention habits, including sunscreen use, wearing sun protective hats, and conducting skin self-exams. The curriculum encourages student participation through group discussion and question and answer sessions.

After the youths understand the three key prevention strategies (sunscreens, sun protective hats, and skin self-exams), they receive a packet that instructs them on how to participate at three activity stations illustrating the prevention strategies. The packets allow the youth to evaluate each activity, listing several potential things the students could like or dislike about a hat or sunscreen. The order of activities has been randomly assigned within individual activity packets, so one student may begin at a station by testing sunscreen "A" while another evaluates hat "C" at a different station.

At the sunscreen activity station, the children sample five or more different types of sunscreen with a range of SPF values and uses (for example, sport sunscreen versus sensitive skin sunscreen). The students try on the sunscreens, judge them on the basis of smell, texture, and color, and rate their feelings in their activity packets. These feelings include likes and dislikes about the particular sunscreen and their feelings toward using sunscreen in general.

At the hat activity station, the participants try on at least five different hats with a variety of sun protective values. These hats should include a baseball cap, a wide-brimmed straw hat, a tightly woven wide-brimmed cloth hat, and others deemed appropriate by program planners. Students judge the hats based on color, style, comfort, likelihood of wearing the hat, and sun protective value. The youths have a chance to "model" the hats for their peers and observe the appearance of others who are trying on the same hats. They can evaluate their feelings toward each hat in their packets.

The skin self-exam station gives the students a chance to practice conducting an exam. Two full length mirrors allow students to examine their exposed skin. Hand held mirrors are available at the station and, when used with the full length ones, give the students a chance to view their entire bodies. The participants use the sheet in the activity packets about "how to conduct a skin self-exam" as a guide. The youths search their skin for moles or distinctive markings and then record these markings in their packets. One part of the "skin self-exam" pages shows a body on which the participant can draw himself or herself and indicate the position of any moles. Colored pencils, crayons, or markers can be used with this activity to make drawing more fun.

These three stations give youth a chance to practice skin cancer prevention behaviors and also observe their peers performing them as well. Activities allow the students to assess skin cancer prevention strategies in terms that coalesce with the way youth make judgements about the world. During the discussion and activities, students can form opinions about the appearance and practice of recommended behaviors. This program is especially ideal for youth, as social comparison, observation, and practice of certain behaviors are powerful learning tools for children in this age group. The program may also be appropriate for adults who may benefit from the opportunity to try-out skin cancer prevention behaviors.


Blair, A., Malker, H., Cantor, K. P., Burmeister, L., & Wiklund, K. (1985). Cancer among farmers. Scandinavian Journal of Work and Environmental Health, 11, 397-407.

Holman, D.C., & Armstrong, B.K. (1984). Cutaneous malignant melanoma and indicators of total accumulated exposure to the sun: An analysis separating histogenetic types. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 73, 75-82.