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Making a Huge Impact Right in Front of Our Eyes

Dr. Susan Swetter

Dr. Susan Swetter is working to improve early detection of skin cancer thanks to the Mary E. Brenneisen Fund.

Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer and one of the most fatal cancers overall. Prone to metastasize (or spread) to other parts of the body, about 90,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year. Every 54 minutes melanoma claims another life.

If recognized and treated early, melanoma is generally curable. If not, it can spread to other areas of the body and become much more difficult to treat.

Knowing full well the dangers of melanoma, Mary Brenneisen was passionate about fighting it. She was determined to support research and patient care, and so chose to make an impact by providing a generous bequest to the Stanford Pigment Lesion and Melanoma Program.

"I was fortunate to know Mary Brenneisen over many years, until she was well into her 80s," says Susan Swetter, MD, professor of dermatology and director of the Stanford Pigment Lesion and Melanoma Program. "She was a delightful individual, sharp as a tack, and always interested in progress in the field of melanoma."

Dr. Swetter is a world leader in the field and, through Stanford's Department of Dermatology, she is working to improve early detection of skin cancer. The Mary E. Brenneisen Fund will help the department lay the groundwork for a novel public health campaign that targets melanoma survivors, their families, and underserved patients across the state of California to promote early melanoma detection—and thus enhance the likelihood of a cure.

Dr. Swetter's vision, now possible with this generous bequest, includes developing the "War on Melanoma" initiative in California. The War on Melanoma campaign was started at Oregon Health and Sciences University in 2014 with philanthropy. The initiative is focused on secondary prevention of melanoma, namely educating patients and health providers to promote detection of disease in its most curable phases, and Dr. Swetter will lead the effort at Stanford and throughout California.

"As we develop the program, the end result will be a major Stanford Cancer Institute community outreach effort with plans for ongoing statewide research related to early melanoma detection and improved patient outcomes," says Dr. Swetter. This work would simply not be possible without Mary Brenneisen's bequest.

Mary Brenneisen's confidence in Stanford Dermatology is well placed. Every day, Stanford researchers are making new discoveries about how skin cancers—and all cancers—start and spread. Investigators around the world are building on scientific breakthroughs and using tools invented at Stanford to translate discoveries in the lab into patient care. Stanford Dermatology researchers and clinicians are at the forefront of publishing new, high-impact research articles that account for more than the next top 10 dermatology departments combined. And they are helping thousands of patients every year.

With the help of philanthropy, what we learn about skin cancer—which occurs right in front of our eyes—will help us solve dilemmas related to other cancers that grow out of sight, so that we can improve patient outcomes more broadly.

If you would like to make a planned gift to Stanford Medicine to advance research and medical breakthroughs, please contact the Office of Planned Giving at 650.723.6560 or

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