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Skin Cancer Module: Practice Exercises

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The Three Levels of Prevention

Module 13: Levels of Disease Prevention

Objective: Learn about primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention.

Preventing any disease can be grouped into three levels. The levels are named for the stages of disease they target. The three levels of prevention are primary, secondary, and tertiary.

The Three Levels of Prevention

Primary Prevention

We use primary prevention methods before the person gets the disease. Primary prevention aims to prevent the disease from occurring. So primary prevention reduces both the incidence and prevalence of a disease. (See module 5 for definitions of "incidence" and "prevalence.") Encouraging people to protect themselves from the sun's ultraviolet rays is an example of primary prevention of skin cancer.

Secondary Prevention

Secondary prevention is usedó

  • after the disease has occurred, but
  • before the person notices that anything is wrong.

A doctor checking for suspicious skin growths is an example of secondary prevention of skin cancer. The goal of secondary prevention is to find and treat disease early. In many cases, the disease can be cured.

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Tertiary Prevention

Tertiary prevention targets the person who already has symptoms of the disease

The goals of tertiary prevention are:

  • prevent damage and pain from the disease
  • slow down the disease
  • prevent the disease from causing other problems (These are called "complications.")
  • give better care to people with the disease
  • make people with the disease healthy again and able to do what they used to do

Developing better treatments for melanoma is an example of tertiary prevention. Examples include better surgeries, new medicines, etc.

Check out the following Web sites to learn more about primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention of skin cancer:******

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  1. Visit some of the sites above. Then list some examples of skin cancer prevention. List at least two examples for each of the three prevention levels. Who would you target with each of the methods you described?

  2. Find out what your school is doing to protect staff and students from the sun. Have they built shade structures or planted trees? Do they encourage students to wear hats and protective clothes when outside? Do they have sunscreen that students can use?

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently studied school health policies and programs on sun exposure and protection. For the results of the study, go to and look at tables 1.4, 1.5, and 1.6.

  3. Australia has the world's highest rate of skin cancer. Two out of three people there get skin cancer by the age of 75. Australian public health officials and lawmakers now encourage sun-smart habits in schools. Check out recommended sun protection policies for Australian schools at:*

    Look at both primary school and secondary school policies. Do you think policies like these could work at schools in the United States? Why or why not?

  4. California recently passed a law that says California schools must let children wear sun protective clothes at school. What are your thoughts on the law? What kind of barrier was the law trying to overcome? Does your state or school have a law or rule that prevents you from wearing hats or wearing sunscreens?

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* Links to non-Federal organizations are provided solely as a service to our users. Links do not constitute an endorsement of any organization by CDC or the Federal Government, and none should be inferred. The CDC is not responsible for the content of the individual organization Web pages found at these links.

This page last reviewed April 24, 2007

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