Vermont is a state known for national and state forests, majestic snow-covered mountains, delicious maple syrup, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. But what many may not know is that it has a high incidence of melanoma. Vermont has the nation’s second-highest per-capita rate of new melanoma cases. According to the most recent data available, its residents have a significantly higher rate of melanoma (33.1 per 100,000) compared to the U.S. rate (21.3 per 100,000).
Why Does Vermont Have Such a High Incidence of Melanoma?
The exact reason for the high rate is unknown, but Sharon Mallory, Comprehensive Cancer Control Program Director at the Vermont Department of Health, believes one explanation is that Vermont’s residents are predominately white, a population that is at a higher risk for developing melanoma. Indeed, according to the most recent census data, Vermont’s population is 95% white. Another of Mallory’s hypotheses is that Vermonters, who spend a great deal of time outdoors, are forgetting to practice sun-safe behaviors such as applying sunscreen on cloudy days and during the winter. For those who do apply sunscreen, she believes many are forgetting to reapply every two hours.
Mallory’s beliefs are reinforced by data. In 2013, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) found that among Vermont adults, 35% reported having one or more sunburns in the past year. Among Vermont’s youth, 44% of middle school students in grades 6-8 reported having a sunburn in the past year, as did 65% of high school students in grades 9-12. (Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) 2015).
Only 16% of Vermont high school students and 27% of middle school students reported wearing sunscreen (SPF 15+) always or most of the time when outside for over an hour on a sunny day (YRBS 2013). Protective practices during childhood are particularly important since five or more blistering sunburns before the age of 20 may increase one’s melanoma risk by as much as 80%.
Vermonters Are Taking Action to Fight Melanoma
Vermonters do not believe in sitting idly by as the incidence of melanoma in the state continues to rise. In the last several years, the Vermont Department of Health, various health providers, organizations, and individuals have joined forces to raise awareness about this deadly disease as well as to help protect residents from the dangers of UV radiation.
In 2012, a coalition of Vermont stakeholders, which included AIM at Melanoma, actively supported and passed legislation to prohibit the use of tanning devices for those under 18 years of age. Vermont became the second state to pass a complete under 18 ban. The law also mandates that tanning facilities post a notice to inform consumers about the age restrictions, the health risks associated with tanning, and the penalty and enforcement provisions under the law.
Read the Law at: Tanning Facilities (18 V.S.A. § 1513)
The positive impact of the 2012 law is already noticeable
In its 2016-2020 Vermont Cancer Plan, which outlines the goals, objectives, and strategies for reducing the burden of cancer in the state, Vermont identifies as one of its goals as, “the need to reduce exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and tanning devices.” To meet that goal, the state implemented a number of programs. Here are just some of them:
~ This past summer, 12 sunscreen dispensers were installed in busy parks throughout the state. The stations are intended to provide convenient access to SPF 30 sunscreen and a reminder of how important it is to protect one’s skin from exposure to the hot summer sun. The state hopes to expand that program to include the City of Burlington, the Town of Milton, and Sugarbush Resort.
~ Along with Four Seasons Dermatology and the University of Vermont, the Vermont Department of Health recently provided 150 staff members at Sugarbush Resort training on skin cancer prevention. Working outdoors at higher elevations puts ski resort workers at a higher risk of skin cancer. The state is hoping to provide future training.
~ A component of the Women’s Health and Cancer Conference now also includes providing skin cancer prevention awareness to healthcare providers. The conference is highly attended by family physicians who are on the front lines of educating their patients about the need to practice sun safety behavior and to perform self-skin examinations.
~ The state also is currently running several public service announcements to encourage people to learn more about skin cancer on its website.
Visit Vermont’s Department of Health website and learn more about melanoma, youth indoor tanning. You can read and download information and reports on:
- Sunscreen Use and Sunburn among Vermont Youth
- Youth Indoor Tanning Data Brief
- Melanoma Data Brief
Vermont Cancer Registry
108 Cherry Street, Suite 303
Burlington, VT 05402