Educating the Public on Cancer Prevention

Ashley Mentlik James, PhD, senior scientific program administrator at the AACR, helps a child with an experiment on sunscreen and UV rays.

On Saturday, May 4, Philadelphians flooded the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the Franklin Institute’s ninth annual Philadelphia Science Festival. For the fourth consecutive year, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) was a sponsor of the community event, giving eager kids and their families the opportunity to learn about science with hands-on experiments and activities.

The theme of the AACR booth, “How Can You Prevent Cancer?,” explored small changes families can make to stay healthy. With an estimated 40 percent of all cancers being preventable with lifestyle changes, AACR scientists demonstrated how using sunscreen, maintaining an active lifestyle, and avoiding smoking can help reduce cancer risk.

To help visualize the importance of sun protection, festivalgoers smeared sunscreen on photoreactive paper and used a UV flashlight to observe how sunscreen protected the covered areas from UV rays. In addition to the sunscreen experiment, both children and adults readily participated in a jump rope challenge, encouraging them to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines. Once they worked up a sweat, AACR scientists helped them peer through microscopes to view cells from healthy lungs compared with lungs with cancer.

“Many of the kids and families who came to us wanted to know how they could prevent cancer, and I think they got some very concrete answers on how to lower their risks, especially for skin cancers,” said Rajarshi Sengupta, PhD, AACR senior scientific editor and Science Festival volunteer. “At the same time, we can get a whole new generation of adolescent and young adults interested in cancer science. One of these children could be the next Jim Allison.”

Srivani Ravoori, PhD, associate director of science communications at the AACR, explains the difference between healthy lungs and lung cancer.

Hundreds of people stopped at the AACR booth during the day-long festival. Many added their thumbprints on AACR posters to represent leaves on a tree, one celebrating cancer survivors and another honoring the memory of those who have passed. The AACR is proud to continue to educate the public about cancer research, including prevention, screening, treatment, and survivorship. To read about other community education events and learn more about the AACR’s public affairs efforts, see our website.

A reminder for summertime

The sunscreen experiment was aptly timed, heading into the sunny season. The AACR supports efforts such as Don’t Fry Day, a yearly initiative from the National Council on Skin Care Prevention. Each year, on the Friday before Memorial Day, the council reminds us to avoid sun burning and tanning; to wear protective clothing; to avoid the sun during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and to be vigilant in using sunblock.