University of Vermont

The University of Vermont Cancer Center

American Cancer Society Recognizes Skin Cancer Advocates

(Left to right) American Cancer Society award winners Claire Verschraegen, M.D., UVM professor of medicine, chief of hematology and oncology and co-director of the Vermont Cancer Center; Kathryn Schwarzenberger, M.D., University of Vermont professor of medicine and chief of dermatology; and Vermont State Representative Janet Ancel.
(Left to right) American Cancer Society award winners Claire Verschraegen, M.D., UVM professor of medicine, chief of hematology and oncology and co-director of the Vermont Cancer Center; Kathryn Schwarzenberger, M.D., University of Vermont professor of medicine and chief of dermatology; and Vermont State Representative Janet Ancel.

Advocacy efforts by Kathryn Schwarzenberger, M.D., University of Vermont professor of medicine and chief of dermatology, and Claire Verschraegen, M.D., UVM professor of medicine, chief of hematology and oncology and co-director of the Vermont Cancer Center, were recognized with awards from the American Cancer Society.

Schwarzenberger and Verschraegen, who are both Fletcher Allen physicians, along with Vermont State Representative Janet Ancel, a skin cancer survivor, received recognition from the American Cancer Society earlier this month for their leadership in skin cancer prevention and commitment to reducing the burden of cancer. Each of the women was instrumental in the public campaign and 2012 legislation to ban the use of tanning beds to children under the age of 18.

A bill introduced by Ancel – H. 157, which aims to reduce skin cancer incidence and protect minors from the deadly and damaging UV rays associated with indoor tanning – was passed with overwhelming support in April, thanks to Schwarzenberger’s and Verschraegen’s testimony.

“These women worked tirelessly to help educate our community leaders about the increased risk of skin cancer that comes with the use of indoor tanning,” said Kelly Stoddard, American Cancer Society vice president of health and advocacy initiatives in Vermont. “Their voices were heard, and lives will be saved.”

UV exposure increases one’s risk for melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, and is also associated with premature aging of the skin, suppression of the immune system, and eye damage, including cataracts, corneal squamous cell carcinoma and ocular melanoma. Twenty-one percent of Vermont teens report using tanning beds, which greatly increasing their risk of developing cancer.

“We felt passionate about this bill,” Schwarzenberger said. “Skin cancer incidence rates are skyrocketing, and tanning when young is particularly dangerous. We can’t keep people out of the sun, but with the passage of this bill, we can keep them out of tanning beds.”

Ancel, a basal cell skin cancer survivor who first introduced the bill in 2004 as a freshman in the State House, said, “It’s been a long haul. The way we change behavior is to change the norms.”

“The big issue for melanoma is prevention,” said Vershraegen, who cited the increase in skin cancer incidence rates at 1 in 50. “If we can prevent the disease, we can avoid these nasty treatments.”

(This article was adapted from a news release produced by Ellen McCoohey of the NH/VT American Cancer Society office.)