The Languages of Skin Cancer Prevention

Skin cancer prevention practices vary among US Hispanics

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Hispanics don’t develop skin cancer at the same rate Caucasians do. But that doesn't mean Hispanics are immune from skin cancer. Practicing skin cancer prevention is important for everyone, regardless of culture or spoken language.

A new study found that English-speaking Hispanics practiced worse skin cancer prevention than their Spanish-speaking colleagues. 

Educational efforts are needed to assist Hispanics to better protect themselves from skin cancer, the authors suggested.

"Wear sunscreen if you’re going to be in the sun for an hour or more."

This study looked at the relationships between languages spoken and sun protection practices of US Hispanic adults. Elliot J. Coups, PhD, behavioral scientist at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey and associate professor of medicine at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, was the lead author.

“Although Hispanics have a lower incidence of melanoma than non-Hispanic white individuals, Hispanics are more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma at an earlier age and with more advanced disease that is less amenable to successful treatment,” the authors wrote.

Researchers identified and surveyed nearly 800 Hispanics who lived in Arizona, California, Florida, New Mexico and Texas. Demographic information – age, gender, education, location of residence and Hispanic heritage – was gathered.

Participants were asked about how often and well they spoke English and Spanish. A total of 35.6 percent spoke Spanish, 19.5 percent spoke English and 44.9 percent spoke both languages.

The individuals were also asked about how they protect their skin from the sun’s harmful rays. These behaviors included wearing sunscreen, protective clothing and hats, staying in the shade.

They were also asked about how often they sunbathed or went to indoor tanning salons.

Researchers found that compared to those who spoke their native tongue, English speakers were more likely to report the following:

  • Regular or occasional indoor tanning visits and sunbathing
  • Less shade seeking and wearing of protective clothing

Sunscreen use was not affected by language.

Individuals who were skilled in both languages were better than English speakers about skin cancer prevention, but were not as diligent as their Spanish-speaking colleagues.

Other findings from the study included:

  • 53 percent of the study members said they stayed in the shade most of the time or always.
  • Men were less likely to use sunscreen and stay in the shade compared to the women.
  • 43 percent said they rarely or never used sunscreen.
  • Nearly 25 percent of respondents did not know the sun protection factor (SPF) of their sunscreen.

“Hispanic adults do not routinely engage in behaviors that reduce their risk of skin for cancer. Bicultural and English acculturated Hispanics are particularly in need of skin cancer prevention interventions,” the authors concluded.

Dr. Coups said, “The association we identified between language use and preference and skin cancer-related behaviors emphasizes the need to develop and test interventions to reduce skin cancer risk among Hispanic individuals of varying levels of acculturation (adaptation to a culture). The study results also highlight the need to include issues related to culture, race and ethnicity in dermatology training programs.”

This study was published April 17 in the latest print edition of JAMA. The research was supported by funding from The Cancer Institute of New Jersey (Coups) and the National Cancer Institute. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 17, 2013
Last Updated:
December 16, 2013