Douglas County might not seem like a place where sun exposure would cause a lot of skin cancer, but high rates have medical professionals so concerned, they’ve declared war on melanoma.
Health professionals said even though the county is in the northern part of the U.S. and doesn’t see the sun for much of the winter, it still has a high rate of melanoma. In fact, the state of Oregon is near the top of highest rates of skin cancer in the nation with 26.9 cases per 100,000 population. Douglas County is only slightly better than the state average at 25.6 per 100,000.
“We have the sixth highest rate of melanoma in the country and the seventh highest rate of death from melanoma,” said Roseburg Dermatologist Dr. Kaylan Weese. “And people are dying from melanoma disproportionately in Southern Oregon.”
And even on cloudy days in Oregon, you can still get a lot of ultraviolet rays which Weese said contributes to aging and melanoma.
Melanoma is the least common, but the most deadly skin cancer. It only accounts for about 1% of all cases, but it is responsible for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society’s “Cancer Facts and Figures 2018.”
Technology, Weese said, has made large strides in predicting what melanoma will do.
“For all melanomas, we have genetic testing that can predict the behavior of your melanoma and how dangerous it will be,” Weese said. “And we now have targeted therapy for patients that have advanced melanoma. That gives them months to years of survival and we’ve never had that.”
Weese said with early detection the melanoma is very treatable, so the survival rate is very high if it is caught early. And one of the things that the Oregon Health and Science University has planned to teach people how to screen for melanoma is the PDX Skincare Festival at OHSU.
“We’re basically doing the same thing here but instead of doing it all in one day, we’re doing a three-part series and we’re participating in that patient symposium this Saturday,” Weese said. “Then at some point soon, we’re going to do our own cancer screening here.”
Danger signs include lesions that are new or changing, particularly those that seem irregular.
“You should be able to draw a line through (the lesion) and have one half look like the other, roughly symmetrical,” Weese said.
There are things you can do to lessen the chances of getting melanoma. When you’re outside, she recommends physical protection by either staying in the shade as much as possible, or if you’re going to be in the sun, wearing protective clothing with long sleeves or a hat, and for those areas that you can’t cover, she recommends sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
OHSU’s dermatology department has teamed up with the national movement to focus on how to prevent melanoma cancer.
Melanoma patients may come to an OHSU symposium this Saturday that will be simulcast live to the Cancer Center in Roseburg.
“They’ve joined forces with the War on Melanoma Movement,” said Angelia Freeman, outreach manager at the Community Cancer Center. “The beauty of that is that we get to listen to everything while it’s happening and have the opportunity to ask questions, and we’ll be able to get feedback and get answers.”
The symposium begins Saturday at noon to 2:45 p.m. To register or for more information go to www.cccroseburg.org or call 541-673-2267, ext. 5104.