Vermont, New Hampshire Top Melanoma Charts

By Steph Machado

Published 07/30 2014 10:43PM

Updated 12/21 2015 05:02PM

BURLINGTON - The Vermont Department of Health is thrilled the U.S. Surgeon General has issued a public health alert about skin cancer.

That's because Vermont has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the country.

I asked two UVM students sunbathing at North Beach if they use sunscreen.

"I do," said Caroline Mariz, explaining that she slathered it on her face and shoulders that day.

"I don't usually," said Alanna Freedman. "Usually I either forget to, or I just don't."

These women are probably in the majority--occasionally applying sunscreen, but not being too vigilant about how much, or how often. According to the Vermont Health Department, that's contributing to the high rate of melanoma in this state.

"A climate where people are less aware of their sun exposure, and may feel like they're not getting as much sun as you might get in places further south," said Sharon Mallory, the Coordinator for the Health Department's Comprehensive Cancer Control Program.

In reality, Vermont has the 4th highest rate of Melanoma in the United States. New Hampshire is 5th. New York is way down the list, at 37.

"I would not have guessed that, it's so cold here all the time!" said Mariz.

While the U.S. Surgeon General often warns about tobacco, this week was the first time the "Nation's Doctor" has ever mentioned skin cancer. The warning: stop tanning altogether, indoor or outdoor.

"Melanoma is certainly an important cancer, and there is a way to prevent it," said Mallory, suggesting applying liberal amounts of sunscreen and staying in the shade during peak sun hours. "I think the Surgeon General is really trying to get people to pay attention to that."

Mallory says in a phone survey, 35% of Vermont adults reported getting a bad sunburn in the past year. She says each "blistering" sunburn can increase a person's chances of getting melanoma later.

The chance is greater if the sunburn was received as a child, which is partially why Vermont passed a law banning anyone under 18 from indoor tanning.

Many people have made progress in recent years when it comes to skin protection:

"I used to use tanning oil, and I stopped doing that," said Freedman.

 But health officials are saying it's time to make it a top priority.

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