PORTLAND – The Oregon Health and Science University has declared a "war on melanoma" and is recruiting unusual foot soldiers for work: hairdressers, makeup artists, mbadeurs, nail technicians and tattoo artists.
Oregon has one of the worst skin cancer rates in the nation, so the idea is to educate professionals whose jobs involve observing the skin for the warning signs of melanoma.
To reinforce their efforts, OHSU and the Knight Cancer Institute are organizing a skin care festival this weekend to raise awareness and add more skin care volunteers to their program, reports Oregon Public Broadcasting.
"If we can teach people what to look for with melanoma … (and) everything that is melanoma is removed early, I think we have overcome the problem," said Sancy Leachman, chairman of the department of dermatology at OHSU .
Leachman was recruited in Oregon from Texas by the Knight Cancer Institute a few years ago. Since then, he has been working to see if teaching people about skin cancer can reduce the disease. The first step, he said, is to establish a baseline.
"We now know how deep the melanoma average is in Oregon, what happens after we give that public health campaign? Did they lower those depths?" She said.
Leachman wants to know how public education affects everything from the melanoma mortality rate to the cost of treatment.
She is recruiting people in a national registry that has almost 8,000 in Oregon. Leachman is also looking for people who have already had skin cancer, families with a history of the disease and redheads with greater risk. It is even interested in people who have no link to the disease because they may illustrate a trait that reduces their risk.
Their hope is that instead of just being able to study patients, scientists can use the registry to access dozens of similar cases at the touch of a button.
Once Leachman establishes that baseline for cancer, skin care professionals can play an important role in prevention, he said.
Esther Prentice, a 31-year-old hairdresser at Gilly's Salon in Southeast Portland, has been recruited as one of Leachman's skin care professionals.
Prentice warns customers about unusual rashes or spots once every few months, but is not always comfortable doing so.
"As soon as you say (cancer), people say:" What? "Because there is that fear," he said.
But cancer specialists say that Prentice should not be shy about her efforts, because melanoma is the only type of cancer that does not usually need expensive medical scans to find.
If detected early, treatment can be as simple as cutting a piece of skin.
But if a melanoma remains untreated, it can metastasize and spread throughout the body.
"If you have metastatic melanoma, even with the best therapies we have, the best chance you probably have is about 50 percent chance, Fifty and Fifty is not what people want to hear," Leachman said.
OHSU and the Knight Cancer Institute have also developed a "Mole Mapper" application that can be downloaded onto an iPhone.
People can take a photo of their mole, add it to a national database and track it to see if it grows. Compare the imperfection with a coin, so that people can see if it changes in size, shape or color.
Researchers hope that people will use it to track their moles and contribute to the investigation of crowds.
Leachman said Oregonians should take their skin care seriously because skin cancer is more badociated with burning, than the amount of sun.
"Because people stay indoors with all the rain during the winter, they have a greater tendency to burn and tend to take vacations in sunny environments where they burn," he said.
"Oregon is always among the first five melanoma rates in the country, and that's just a shock to people, they have no idea."