Risky Tans: An Interventional Design

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About This Module

Topics: Human health, epidemiology, skin cancer, indoor tanning, UV radiation, interventional design

Grade levels: 9-12


Students take on the roles of epidemiologists studying the trends in increasing cases of skin cancer linked to indoor tanning methods. They develop and test the effectiveness of a program they have developed that increases the awareness of the risks of indoor tanning and the increase in skin cancer.

Learning Objectives

To better understand the effects of ultraviolet radiation from indoor tanning methods such as tanning beds and sun lamps and their link to increasing rates of skin cancer, students should be able to:

  • Explain how UV rays can cause skin cancer.
  • Describe different types of skin cancer.
  • Explain the ABDCEs of skin cancer.
  • Design an interventional strategy for teens to increase awareness of the dangers of indoor tanning.
  • Develop a plan to test the effectiveness of the designed strategy and implement the plan.
  • Analyze the data from the evaluation plan and report results.

Next Generation Science Standards

Standards Aligned to PBL Modules

Scenario (with suggestions) 


United Cancer Research Center

Epidemiology Unit

It is my pleasure to inform you that your Epidemiology Unit at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been selected to conduct a study of strategies that work to inform teens on the dangers of using tanning beds and sun lamps.  Your history of providing flawless scientific methods to such studies is outstanding and was a major contributor to our decision. 

As you know, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause skin cancer, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. It can also cause cataracts and cancer of the eyes. The danger for younger users is even higher. People who begin indoor tanning earlier have a higher risk of getting melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Even more alarming is the ever-increasing trend of young people using indoor tanning methods, especially tanning beds. Skin cancer can occur at any age, but it used to occur primarily in people over age 50. In recent years, however, there has been a steadily decreasing age at which skin cancer is developing. This is most likely because of the increased use of tanning salons and the practice of tanning the skin year-round. There are now more reports of melanomas (skin cancers) in young people in their early 20s.

Research studies have confirmed the link between indoor tanning and melanoma.  A 2014 study estimated that more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer could be related to indoor tanning in the United States each year. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified indoor tanning as a known carcinogen. Yet, 11.3 million people continue to use tanning beds and sun lamps, including 1.6 million under the age of 18 years.

In an effort to reduce future cases of potentially deadly melanoma, some states have begun to restrict indoor tanning for minors under age 18 years. Still, more needs to be done.

According to your proposal, your task is three-fold: 1) design a comprehensive skin cancer awareness program, raising awareness of the link to indoor tanning, 2) develop a survey that will gather the data you need to test the impact of your materials, and 3) analyze the impact of your program. Please provide a detailed outline and description of each component of the program along with the evaluation report by the date specified in our agreement.

We look forward to working with your talented team of researchers and expect that your program and findings from this study will greatly impact the quality of life for many teens.


Kelly Callis
President, United Cancer Research Center


Your Tasks:

1) Design an interventional strategy to increase awareness of skin cancer caused by ultraviolet rays from indoor tanning.

An interventional strategy is one that is designed to have a beneficial effect on a person or group of people. In this case, the intervention should help teens become more aware of the dangers of indoor tanning and cancer development.

The strategy may be an effective school assembly, an anti-tanning campaign complete with anti-tanning signs and posters, informational pamphlets about skin cancer and causes, or any other strategies that you may design.

Teacher Notes: Students have a few suggestions for types of interventions in the paragraph above, but only a few are mentioned so that students can come up with their own creative ideas. You may want them to submit their ideas to you for approval before they begin work.

Stress the importance of providing information about the dangers of indoor tanning and its link to skin cancer. Some students may use indoor tanning methods year-round and resist any information that may make them uncomfortable with the scenario assignments. Emphasizing the scientific evidence may help them overcome any resistance to the topic.

As you begin discussion on the scenario and without asking for specific personal information, ask students if they have ever known someone who had skin cancer. Be aware of the possibility that the topic could be a sensitive one for those students. They may want to share what they know of the experiences of that person.

2) Develop a survey that would test the effectiveness of your materials. Think scientifically.

Do you want a control group? Will you have another group of students (the experimental group) view your materials and report on whether or not they were influenced by the information they gained? Do you want your survey to also test the knowledge they gained? Do you want the group to take a survey before they view your intervention and then again after they view the intervention materials to find out if their knowledge or attitudes have changed?

This is your way of finding out if the intervention made people more aware of the dangers of skin cancer and the health risks associated with indoor tanning.

Teacher Notes: Make sure your students are conducting a valid scientific survey. They should have a control group in some way, who does not see the intervention materials and an experimental group who does experience the intervention. The experimental group should take a pre-test so their responses to the survey after the intervention can be compared to their responses before the intervention.

There are multiple ways to construct a scientific survey. Accept any valid method your students choose or make it clear how you would like it constructed in the rubric.

3) Analyze your survey results and report on the effectiveness of your materials.

Epidemiologists study health effects and analyze trends to improve quality of life.  They study patterns, find causes of health problems, and use those results to minimize public health risks.

What percentage of students use indoor tanning? Did students report that they learned more about the dangers of indoor tanning causing skin cancer from your intervention? Did they think they would stop or reduce their use of indoor tanning after finding out about its effects?

Answers to questions like these help epidemiologists make important recommendations that have decreased health risks and saved countless lives.

Teacher Notes: Students should analyze the results of their surveys. Presenting the data in percentages or total numbers and in data tables and graphs provides a better view of the data and allows for better interpretation of the results. Students should include this analysis in their presentations.

Sample Rubric

Information about constructing and implementing rubrics for problem-based learning strategies can be found in
Developing Rubrics in the Teacher Professional Development section. 


 Invite a local dermatologist or dermatology nurse to talk to your classes about causes, types, and treatment for skin cancer.

► If you know of a skin cancer survivor, invite him/her to talk to your class about their experiences with diagnosis and treatment. (This is a touchy presentation and you will have to know that the person is a good “fit” with your class grade and ability level.  Also, be aware that some of your students may have family members who have struggled with skin cancer or skin cancer that has metastasized to other areas of the body.)

► There are lab activities that are available for measuring the effects of UV radiation on UV beads or on yeast cells. There are also activities for measuring the effects of sunscreens/blocks on UV beads. You may want to add in one of these activities to the Risky Tans module work.

Additional Resources 

Additional resources about skin cancer and the dangers of indoor tanning can be found:

in the Risky Tans: An Interventional Design module at http://www.pandemsim.com/pdc/scenario-risky-tans-an-interventional-design/

in the Key Resources section at http://www.pandemsim.com/pdc/internet-resources-skin-cancer-2/