OHSU doctor wages war on melanoma in Oregon

OHSU doctor wages war on melanoma in Oregon


by Cathy Marshall, KGW Staff


Posted on May 23, 2014 at 12:18 PM

Updated Friday, May 23 at 12:23 PM

PORTLAND -- On sunny days, there’s a renewed energy on the streets of Portland. but for dermatologist Dr. Sancy Leachman, there’s a renewed commitment to fight the sun's damaging rays.

“I’m on a crusade,” she said.

Dr. Leachman is at the helm of OHSU’s war on melanoma. She’s quick to cite facts about sun exposure and developing the deadly skin cancer.

“One sunburn doubles your chance, and Oregon is fifth in the country for the number of cases,” she said. 

She also points to a troubling trend.

“When you look at loss of life from melanoma, it’s high and it’s hitting young people,” she said.

Summer Kramer and Katy Wilkes know the horror of melanoma. They were both diagnosed in their 20s after seeing a change in a mole.

“It would get a white halo around it and that drove me to see a dermatologist,” Kramer said. 

“I have friends who say, 'You’re lucky it was just skin cancer,' and I say, 'No I’m not, it’s one of the most deadly cancers,'” Wilkes said.

Both women blame their cancer on tanning beds.

Now, they are joining Dr. Leachman in a new effort to track down melanoma patients from all over Oregon.

OHSU sent fliers to 30,000 patients, asking them to sign up for a registry to provide a research base.

“Every time you start a new study, you have to identify patients. This could give us a group already assembled and ready to go,” explained Dr. Leachman.

Kramer and Wilkes took the three minutes to go online and sign up.

“It’s concerning to me that rates for skin cancer keep going up, while rates for some other cancers are declining. If we don’t get involved there won’t be a change,” said Wilkes.

In a week, 500 people have signed up on the website. Dr. Leachman calls it a good start in what she knows will be a long crusade.

“It’s horrible when it happens. We need to find some answers,” she said.