Physicians' sun protection lapses match those of patients

Physicians are no more likely than their patients to protect themselves from the sun's harmful rays, a new study reveals.

"We expected physicians to report a higher use of sun protection behaviors because [their] medical training should translate to lower rates of cancer risk behaviors," explains lead author Christopher N. Sciamanna, M.D., M.P.H., from the Brown University School of Medicine. Exposure to sunlight, he notes, has repeatedly been implicated in the high incidence of skin cancers in the United States.

The investigators assumed that physicians would be inclined to act as "role models for a healthy lifestyle."

Instead, the researchers report in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, patients and doctors were equally likely to claim they used some form of sun protection when going outside for an hour or more on a sunny summer day.

Sciamanna and his colleagues surveyed 100 clinic patients and 84 physicians at a Rhode Island teaching hospital during April 2000. Overall, the researchers found, responses were in keeping with national averages: 34.6 percent of participants reported always or nearly always using sunscreen and 23.1 percent reported always or nearly always wearing a wide-brimmed hat or long-sleeved shirt to avoid sun exposure.

The researchers also found that regular use of at least one form of sun protection was as common among the patients (45 percent) as among the physicians (47.1 percent).

However, the specific forms of sun protection used by members of the two groups differed. "Physicians were more likely than patients to regularly use sunscreen but less likely to stay in the shade or wear a long-sleeved shirt to avoid sun exposure," Sciamanna reports.

"We are not certain what factors explain the lack of a difference between patients and physicians in their use of sun protection," Sciamanna says. Gender and race do not appear to be responsible, as the two gro

Contact: Christopher Sciamanna
Center for the Advancement of Health

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