Evaluation of a cancer prevention and detection curriculum for medical students

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Medicine, Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine

Publication Date


Document Type



Adult; Breast Neoplasms; Clinical Competence; Competency-Based Education; Counseling; Data Collection; Education, Medical, Undergraduate; Female; Humans; Male; Neoplasms; Outcome Assessment (Health Care); Physical Examination; Smoking; Sunlight


Life Sciences | Medicine and Health Sciences | Women's Studies


BACKGROUND: Undergraduate medical education needs revision to ensure that medical students graduate with the skills necessary to assist their patients in cancer prevention and detection. We sought to implement and incorporate a cancer education curriculum into the students' core curriculum and to assess their skill levels prior to (1996), during (1997), and at the peak (1998-1999) of the incorporation of new hours.

METHODS: We conducted pretest and posttest surveys of students at Boston University School of Medicine (medical student years 1-4) enrolled in each of the four study years (1996-1999). A total of 1,956 surveys (response rate, 82%) were completed. The primary outcome measure was the student's self-reported skill level (with responses ranging from 1 (very unskilled) to 5 (very skilled)) for counseling for tobacco cessation, tobacco prevention, and sun protection and for the early detection of breast, skin, and cervical cancer. Mean scores were computed for each chronological year of the study and medical school year. Differences and trends over time in mean scores of students in each medical school year were evaluated using multiple regression analysis.

RESULTS: The number of hours of cancer education increased from 6 in 1996 to 15 in 1999. Strong improvements in self-rated skill levels were recorded for four of the six measures. In particular, tobacco cessation counseling skill rose from 2.16 (1996) to 3.13 (1999) for second year students (P < 0.001) and from 3.27 (1996) to 4.17 (1999) for fourth year students (P < 0.001). Among fourth year students, the percentage reporting that cancer prevention was given too little emphasis declined from 62% (1996) to 26% (1999) (P < 0.001), suggesting that the expanded curriculum reflected the students' preferences.

CONCLUSIONS: Cancer education can be interwoven into the existing medical school curriculum and produce improvements in students' skill levels for counseling and examinations. Strategies to enhance prevention teaching can use this model.

DOI of Published Version



Prev Med. 2002 Jul;35(1):78-86.

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Preventive medicine

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