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Meredith Holt, Published January 25 2013

NDSU grad student studies sun protection in outdoor workers

FARGO - Growing up on a farm in western North Dakota, Kathryn Stensgard saw firsthand how skin cancer can affect outdoor workers.

“I’ve seen so much of it in my own family and in the farmers and ranchers around the community. I think there isn’t enough knowledge and education and encouragement for people to protect themselves against it,” she says.

Her experience prompted her to study the topic at North Dakota State University, where she’s pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.

“It’s something that’s so preventable. Skin cancer is the most common of all of the cancers, but it’s also the most easy to treat if it’s detected early,” she says.

Stensgard, 29, of Fargo, designed surveys for 105 participants to take before and after giving them written materials (a pamphlet and a magnet) and a verbal presentation.

“The greatest percentage of people said that the presentation was most helpful, which to me just reinforces the fact that providers need to be educating their patients when they come in,” she says.

Afterward, 95 percent said they had a better understanding of both skin cancer and sun-protection measures such as using sunscreen and wearing wide-brimmed hats.

In the pre-presentation survey, 36 percent of the participants said they didn’t use sunscreen at all and 50 percent said they rarely or never included it as part of their daily routine.

“The people with personal history and family history of skin cancer did report a higher use of sunscreen,” Stensgard adds.

Post-presentation, participants indicated that they were more than three times more likely to use sunscreen.

“That just highlighted for me the importance of educating people about (skin cancer) and the significance of utilizing sunscreen,” she says.

Furthermore, 88 percent said they were more likely to complete self-skin examinations checking for signs of skin cancer.

“Skin cancer in North Dakota is increasing, especially in males, so the overall goal is for the skin cancer incidence to decrease because people are taking care of themselves,” Stensgard says.

Additional findings:

• Those ages 25 to 40 reported the most frequent sunscreen use.

• Those ages 60 to 80 were least likely to use sunscreen.

• 26 percent were unsure when sunscreen should be applied before going outdoors.

• 35 percent believed that sunscreen should be applied the correct 20 minutes prior to sun exposure.

• 74 percent had never received instruction on sunscreen use.

• Only 29 percent had received instruction from a general practitioner.

Stensgard, who graduates in May as a nurse practitioner, has sent out inquiries in hopes of eventually getting her findings published in professional research, nursing or agricultural journals.

“I want the awareness to increase for farmers and ranchers across the state of North Dakota, and any outdoor workers, for that matter. That’s the primary goal,” she says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590