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Ore. has high melanoma rate, needs more dermatologists

Associated Press - Sunday, May 6, 2007
One in five Americans will develop skin cancer during a lifetime.
PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon has one of the highest rates of the deadliest form of skin cancer in the nation but demand for the doctors who specialize in skin care has outpaced the supply.

In Oregon, the reported rate of that form of cancer -- melanoma -- was 23 percent higher in 2003 than the national average.

That year, 1,472 Oregonians were diagnosed with melanoma, and 789 of those were the invasive form, meaning they were especially deadly.

Dr. Neil Swanson, chairman of the Oregon Health & Science University dermatology department, said blames the high Oregon skin cancer rates partly on Northern European ancestry and outdoor work east of the Cascades.

But he says there are other risk factors, too. Many Oregonians are transplants from other, sunnier regions and received sun damage early in life, he says. And many who live on the western side of the Cascades often head south for a midwinter respite from the rain.

"They go to the desert or Hawaii and get sunburned in February the first few days they're on vacation," Swanson said. It fades to a tan, and then they come home. But then they start the whole cycle again in June or July when the sun comes out." This routine, he says, damages the ability of skin cells to repair themselves.

For many patients, finding a dermatologist can be a significant challenge.

Since the early 1990s, the number of dermatologist residents trained in the United States each year has remained steady at about 300. Meanwhile, the nation's population has grown by an estimated 15 percent.

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer during a lifetime, and between 40 percent and 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have skin cancer at least once.

Cases of melanoma more than tripled among whites in the United States between 1980 and 2003, according to the American Cancer Society.
Randy Kieling