By Drs. Sancy Leachman and Elizabeth Berry

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For more details on how to check your skin or how to get involved in the War on Melanoma campaign, visit

Wearing sunscreen today? If the answer is no, maybe you should be. Recent data show that Deschutes and Klamath counties have the highest rates of melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, in Oregon. Many people are surprised to find that Oregon consistently ranks in the top six states in the U.S. for melanoma incidence.

Bend’s relative epidemic of melanoma is due to a number of key factors:

• The sunny climate and high elevation lead to intense sun exposure.

• The county has a large population of light-skinned individuals.

• Bend residents enjoy an outdoor lifestyle year-round.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 96,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2019. Melanoma is now the fifth most common cancer in Americans.

Early detection saves lives. If the disease has not spread to the lymph nodes or other organs, the five-year survival rate for melanoma exceeds 98%. However, survival drops steeply for more advanced disease and decreases to less than 25% for those whose disease has spread to other organs. Unlike other cancers, melanoma can be detected with an instrument accessible to everyone — the human eye.

While sunscreen, hats and UV-protective clothing are vitally important in preventing skin cancer, those with a history of numerous sunburns need to understand how to check their skin for warning signs of melanoma. For this reason, the department of dermatology at Oregon Health & Science University has launched the War on Melanoma campaign. The public education initiative strives to teach Oregonians how to identify potentially dangerous moles. The War on Melanoma also seeks to educate primary care providers and skin care specialists (including hairdressers, tattoo artists and massage therapists) how to recognize this deadly form of skin cancer.

Most melanomas are discovered by patients and their partners. It’s easy to examine your own skin. Some people work from head to toe, but the order in which you perform the exam does not matter as long as you look (or have a partner examine) every body part. Melanoma can come up anywhere (even in places never exposed to the sun), so make sure to look in every nook and cranny.

Have you taken a close look at your skin lately? •