Avoiding Skin Cancer: The American Academy of Dermatology

Well Crafted PSAs Warn the Public About Dangers of Sun Tanning

Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer, a deadly condition that is now an epidemic in this country.  This year alone, more than 1 million Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer, and 10,250 people will die from it. That’s why prevention for everyone – particularly young people – is vitally important.  Research has shown that in spite of the known health risks, people continue to tan.  How do we address the long-standing belief that “skin cancer won’t happen to me” and get people to change their behavior?

Here are some very scary statistics, but the last point gives the public hope IF they get regular check-ups:

  • 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
  • Having 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma.
  • Indoor tanning devices can emit UV radiation in amounts 10 to 15 times higher than the sun at its peak intensity.
  • When detected early, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99%

Since its founding in 1938, the American Academy of Dermatology has been educating the public about the dangers of skin cancer.

With a membership of more than 20,500 physicians worldwide, the AAD is committed to advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical, and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair, and nails.

Our work for AAD began in 1999 and since that time we have distributed ten national PSA campaigns on various facets of skin cancer, the importance of regular screenings, and dangerous practices such as over exposure to the sun and indoor tanning.

According to a survey by the Academy, most Americans don’t know the warning signs of skin cancer and only about one third examine their skin for signs of the potentially deadly disease.

One of the early TV PSAs released by the Academy was titled “Raisin.” The spot uses special effects to capture the transformation of a grape into a raisin. The voiceover explains that the only difference between a grape and a raisin is the time spent in the sun. Viewers are urged to think about what the sun is doing to their skin, as overexposure and under-protection can lead to skin cancer and premature aging.

Another TV PSA titled: “You’re It” was a take-off on the popular kid’s game known as tag, but the phrase takes on much more serious consequences for the person who has been tagged. In this dramatic spot, viewers are left to wonder who is this dark, mysterious figure and why are these people being tagged. At the end, the answer is clear – 1 in 5 Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime. Only by taking protective measures, such as wearing sunscreen, covering up and seeing a dermatologist, can viewers ward off this common enemy – skin cancer.

A TV PSA titled: “Towels.” shows an aerial view of a typical day at the beach. As the camera moves in on a tranquil scene of sun and surf, viewers quickly learn that the motionless bodies lying under their beach towels represent the lives claimed by skin cancer each year. The haunting images of lifeless sunbathers, coupled with the message that five or more sunburns doubles your risk of skin cancer, illustrate the importance of taking protective measures.

Tailoring the Message

A later PSA campaign warns two very different audiences about their risk of developing skin cancer: teen girls and men over 50.

Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer for young women ages 15- 29, and men over 50 have a higher risk of developing melanoma than the general public. This TV PSA titled: “Arms” warns teen girls about the very real dangers of tanning – both indoors and out.

In the PSA, two young girls compare their tans throughout significant points in their lives, such as their high school prom, spring break, and a friend’s wedding. As time passes, a small mole on one of the girls’ arms begins to change – becoming bigger and darker – and is eventually replaced by a bandage. At the end, the girls are seen tightly clasping hands in a hospital as it is revealed that one of the girls is now battling advanced stage melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

“Exposure to UV radiation, whether it’s from the sun or an indoor tanning device, is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer,” says board-certified dermatologist Elizabeth S. Martin, MD, FAAD, Past Chair of the AAD Council on Communications. “A tan is not worth your life.”

The TV PSA distribution plan for these campaigns included 2,000 local TV stations, 150 national networks and our specialized cable distribution service entitled CablePAK. Included in the plan was an aggressive promotional effort which included feature stories in our proprietary newsletter sent to TV media as shown above. We also conducted personal outreach to the national networks and promoted the PSAs to specialty health channels such as the Healium Network.

Broader Media Mix

Radio PSAs were an important medium largely due to the fact that radio is mobile and a favorite medium of young people. One of the radio PSAs entitled, “Sunshine/Flatline,” was designed to make Americans consider the potential consequences of sun exposure and burns.

Listeners are lulled into a tranquil setting of sun and surf, with the cheerful chimes of an ice cream truck playing in the distance. Suddenly, the chimes are interrupted by the harsh beep of a heart monitor that soon flatlines, proving this spot is anything but a typical day at the beach. The message that five or more sunburns double your risk of skin cancer illustrates the importance of taking protective measures. The radio distribution plan consisted of sending CD packages to 5,000 radio stations and 150 networks. We also posted all TV and radio PSAs to the NationalAssociation of Broadcasters Spot Center website.

Dangers of Indoor Tanning 

One of the most important PSA campaigns which included multi-media elements warned the public about the dangers of indoor tanning. Shown at right is a print PSA using edgy graphics which appeal to young people, the primary users of tanning beds. Some very scary statistics on this bad habit:

  • More than 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year are linked to indoor tanning, including about 245,000 basal cell carcinomas, 168,000 squamous cell carcinomas and 6,200 melanomas.
  • More people develop skin cancer because of indoor tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking.
  • Those who have ever tanned indoors have an 83 percent increased risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma and a 29 percent increased risk of developing basal cell carcinoma.

As we do with all our PSA campaigns, each of the AAD PSA campaigns was thoroughly evaluated to determine impact. Shown here, the ten campaigns we distributed for the Academy generated just under $142 million in advertising equivalency value. It is unknown how many lives were saved by these important public health messages, but if even one life was saved, it was well worth the effort.

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