Conference Coverage

In Oregon, ‘war on melanoma’ takes flight



Dermatologists in Oregon have launched a project that targets melanoma by promoting education and early detection, with the goal of dramatically reducing melanoma deaths in the state of 4.2 million people.

Dr. Sancy A. Leachman

Research shows that “early detection works in melanoma. And awareness seems to be important for the public in detecting melanoma early,” said Sancy Leachman, MD, PhD, professor and chair of the department of dermatology at Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, said at the Skin Disease Education Foundation’s annual Las Vegas Dermatology Seminar.

Dr. Leachman, who is also the John D. Gray chair in melanoma research at OHSU, directs the “War on Melanoma” project, which was inspired by a project in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein that aimed to screen all residents aged over 21 years for melanoma. The project featured an education campaign and population-wide skin cancer screening, and mandated that certain patients – those at high risk and those who needed biopsies – would be referred to dermatologists (Br J Cancer. 2012 Feb 28;106[5]:970-4).

According to Dr. Leachman, the German project was initially a success, and was linked to a 50% decrease in melanoma mortality.

“In Oregon, we thought ‘that sounds very good, so we’re going to try that.’ ” But when it went national, the German project failed, she said, providing lessons for dermatologists in Oregon. “We’re going to try to improve upon the first [German] experiment by making ours controlled with a defined baseline. If it works, the plan is to extend it to select states nationwide.”

The War on Melanoma project was launched earlier this year. According to the university, the program is featuring or will feature the following elements:

  • A media campaign called “Start Seeing Melanoma” that’s devoted to educating the public about the early detection of melanoma.
  • The release of an iPhone app called MoleMapper that allows users to monitor moles over time.
  • Education of medical professionals and partnerships with state-licensed skin care professionals such as massage therapists, cosmetologists, and tattoo artists.

In an interview at the meeting, Dr. Leachman said the project is expected to cost $1 million to $1.5 million over the first 18 months. At that time, she said, researchers will survey residents of Oregon and two control states – Washington and Utah– to see if their knowledge of melanoma has improved, compared with baseline survey results.

In 5 years, researchers plan to begin analyzing melanoma mortality in Oregon and the other states. “We hope to see a decline,” and to link it to increased awareness of melanoma, she said.

Dr. Leachman reported no relevant disclosures. She spoke during a forum on cutaneous malignancies at the meeting.

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