Open Access Research article

Assessment of a new questionnaire for self-reported sun sensitivity in an occupational skin cancer screening program

Jürgen Tacke1*, Jens Dietrich1, Beatrix Steinebrunner1 and Antonius Reifferscheid2

Author Affiliations

1 Joint Group Practice Dermatology, Bremsstrasse 19, 50969 Cologne, Germany

2 Medical Corporate Department, Henkel KGaA, Henkelstrasse 67, 40589 Düsseldorf, Germany

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BMC Dermatology 2008, 8:4  doi:10.1186/1471-5945-8-4

Published: 24 October 2008

Abstract

Background

Sun sensitivity of the skin is a risk factor for the development of cutaneous melanoma and other skin cancers. Epidemiological studies on causal factors for the development of melanoma must control for sun sensitivity as a confounder. A standardized instrument for measuring sun sensitivity has not been established yet. It is assumed that many studies show a high potential of residual confounding for sun sensitivity. In the present study, a new questionnaire for the assessment of self-reported sun sensitivity is administered and examined.

Methods

Prior to an occupational skin cancer screening program, the 745 participating employees were asked to fill in a questionnaire for self-assessment of sun sensitivity. The questionnaire was developed by experts of the working group "Round Table Sunbeds" (RTS) to limit the health hazards of sunbed use in Germany. A sun sensitivity score (RTS-score) was calculated using 10 indicators. The internal consistency of the questionnaire and the agreement with other methods (convergent validity) were examined.

Results

The RTS-score was calculated for 655 study participants who were 18 to 65 years of age. The correlation of the items among each other was between 0.12 and 0.62. The items and the RTS-score correlated between 0.46 and 0.77. The internal consistency showed a reliability coefficient with 0.82 (Cronbach's alpha). The comparison with the Fitzpatrick classification, the prevailing standard, was possible in 617 cases with a rank correlation of rs = 0.65. The categorization of the RTS-score in four risk groups showed correct classification to the four skin types of Fitzpatrick in 75% of the cases. Other methods for the assessment of sun sensitivity displayed varying agreements with the RTS-score.

Conclusion

The RTS questionnaire showed a sufficient internal consistency. There is a good convergent validity between the RTS-score and the Fritzpatrick classification avoiding shortcomings of the prevailing standard. The questionnaire represents a simple, reliable and valid instrument for the assessment of sun sensitivity. The questionnaire can be useful for epidemiological studies as well as for skin cancer prevention. Further development and standardization of sun sensitivity assessments is necessary to strengthen the evidence of epidemiological studies on causal factors of melanoma and other skin cancers.