Preventing melanoma: 'People don't always know what to look for'

Preventing melanoma: 'People don't always know what to look for' »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Some new artillery in the fight against melanoma is coming from OHSU and the Knight Cancer Institute.

An unprecedented research project could help prevent the deadly skin cancer that hits Oregonians especially hard.

That may sound surprising considering the reputation the Northwest has for dreary, wet weather.

Oregon ranks fifth in the country for melanoma cases; second in the country for the number of cases in women.

"People don't always know what to look for," saus Dr. Sancy Leachman, the top dermatologist at OHSU.

Leachman is kind of the general in this war, heading up a new volunteer registry of soldiers, cancer patients across the state, detailing what they've been through.

"I need to know where the problems were in the patients. What were the obstacles to detecting it. How could we have caught it earlier," said Leachman.

What they find out can lead to better prevention of a fast-moving cancer that strikes a younger crowd than most cancers.

"If breast cancer is found at 2 millimeters deep, it can most likely be kept in check. If a melanoma is found that is 1 centimeter deep, it's likley to have already spread to the lymphnodes," says Leachman.

After being turned down by other research projects because he didn't have a family history of cancer, Steven Zmrhal is excited about being part of this one.

"It's empowering, to be part of a solution, insted of just managing my cancer on my own," says Zmrhal.

Doctors want to include non-cancer patients too. That will provide a control group to compare patients to.

It includes people like hair dressers, massage therapists, and tattoo artists. People who work with skin every day.

Steven Zmrhal's first melanoma was found by his personal fitness trainer.

"He was doing a fat content test, and noticed it on my back, where I would not have normally checked."

Zmrhal also uses a smart phone app that texts him when the UV index reaches a dangerous level.

It's all more ammunition in the battle.

You can sign up for the registry at www.ohsu.edu/waronmelanoma or call 1-844-300-SPOT.