NCHR Comments on the USPSTF’s Evidence Review and Draft Recommendation Statement for Behavioral Counseling for Skin Cancer Prevention

National Center for Health Research: November 6, 2017

Thank you for the opportunity to express our views about the USPSTF’s evidence review and draft recommendation statement on behavioral counseling interventions for skin cancer prevention. The National Center for Health Research is a nonprofit think tank that conducts, analyzes, and scrutinizes research, policies, and programs on a range of issues related to health and safety. We do not accept funding from companies that make products that are the subject of our work.

Skin cancer prevention is a very important public health issue, and the public needs better information. The USPSTF previously cited evidence linking UV radiation exposure to an increased risk for melanoma later in life for children, and to a lesser extent, adults. Encouraging healthy sun-related behaviors that prevent UV exposure, and ultimately skin cancer, would save lives.

We support the efforts of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) to re-evaluate its recommendations in light of new research regarding behavioral counseling interventions to prevent skin cancer. We have a few comments regarding the draft recommendations:

#1: Based on new studies of children younger than 10 years old, we agree that there is sufficient evidence for USPSTF to expand their “B” grade recommendation for fair-skinned individuals from 10-24 years to 6 months-24 years.

#2: We agree with a “C” grade recommendation for fair-skinned adults older than 24 instead of an “I” grade. This means that discussion about behavioral counseling will be left to doctors and patients to decide based on doctors’ professional judgment and patients’ preferences. Some studies indicated that adults benefited from behavioral counseling interventions, particularly for interventions that were longer and more involved (e.g. sun protection-focused text messages over 12 months vs. single behavioral counseling session).

#3: We concur with maintaining an “I” grade for skin self-examination as the review team did not find any eligible studies to evaluate.

#4: Available data present challenges to making recommendations. For example, studies were not sufficiently long-term to study the incidence of skin cancer outcomes. Two adult studies followed patients for 24 months, but most studies only followed patients for 3-13 months. We agree that, ideally, additional studies are needed to assess skin cancer outcomes over a much longer period of time. We also recognize that it is not feasible to study the impact of these interventions long-term and agree with the USPSTF’s focus on reviewing behavioral counseling interventions aimed at promoting sun-protective behaviors that prevent individuals’ exposure to UV radiation in the short-term.

#5: Future reviews and recommendations should expand the recommendations to include people who do not have fair skin and light-colored hair and eyes. Although white people have the highest risk of melanoma and were overwhelmingly represented in this review, researchers noted that it is unknown whether these findings also apply to people of color, who die at higher rates from skin cancer. In addition, it would be beneficial to know if the benefits and risks were similar between men and women and for those who have family members who developed skin cancer.

#6: Studies are needed to determine which, if any, primary care-related interventions are effective for which demographic subgroups. Researchers concluded that successful behavioral counseling interventions were typically multi-component, including varying combinations of intervention components such as in-person counseling, print media, and sun protection aids like sunscreen.

In conclusion, we support USPSTF’s draft recommendations for behavioral counseling interventions to prevent skin cancer as well as their broader efforts to improve the health of all Americans by making evidence-based recommendations about clinical preventive services. As more information becomes available, we encourage the provision of additional recommendations about more specific behavioral interventions to prevent skin cancer for individuals in various subgroups.

For questions or more information, please contact Megan Polanin, PhD, at