Compensation Behaviors and Skin Cancer Prevention

Published:October 18, 2018DOI:


      Skin cancer prevention guidelines recommend practicing multiple behaviors to protect against harmful ultraviolet rays, yet few adults report practicing more than one recommended behavior. This study examines the extent to which skin cancer prevention behaviors are combined and may follow a pattern of compensation in which an individual's performance of one behavior (e.g., wearing sunscreen) precludes performing other protective behaviors (e.g., wearing a hat).


      Data from qualitative semi-structured interviews (n=80) in 2015 and a quantitative online national survey (n=940) in 2016 with non-Hispanic white adults aged 18–49 years from the U.S. were used to examine combinations of skin cancer prevention behaviors. Data were analyzed in 2017.


      Protective behaviors like wearing sunglasses and sunscreen were a common approach to prevention, but protective, avoidant (i.e., seeking shade, avoiding outdoor tanning), and covering-up (i.e., wearing a hat, shirt) strategies were rarely used in combination. Regression analyses to determine correlates of protection, avoidance, and covering-up showed that age was positively associated with practicing each strategy; positive attitudes about tanning were negatively associated with avoidance and covering-up; and positive body image was positively associated with protection and negatively associated with avoidance. Demographics such as education, employment, and gender, but not skin cancer risk, were also related to the various strategies.


      Although a full evaluation of compensation theory and skin cancer prevention was limited by the available data, the results suggest that application of the theory may yield clues for how to improve sun protection behaviors.
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