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Join the ‘War on Skin Cancer’

Community event to offer: the latest on skin cancer prevention, treatment, research; Guinness World Record attempt for largest gathering of natural redheads

Calling all redheads, fair-skinned Oregonians and sun worshipers: OHSU needs your help to defeat melanoma. Despite its reputation for rainy weather, Oregon has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the nation, and researchers are trying to find out why.

On Saturday, May 21, at the second annual “War on Skin Cancer” event, OHSU researchers will engage patients and the community in its efforts to detect and treat the disease. The free event runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Collaborative Life Sciences Building on Portland’s South Waterfront and will offer attendees the opportunity to participate in skin cancer research, hear directly from experts and local dermatologists, and receive tips for sun safety and cancer prevention.

Sancy Leachman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s Melanoma Research Program and chair of the OHSU Department of Dermatology, is leading the charge.

“Community involvement and education is crucial in our mission to fight this war against skin cancer. Something as simple as a saliva sample or a blood sample can truly make an impact on our research to determine the pre-cursors for lethal skin cancers. Those samples, I believe, will ultimately help make an impact on this disease,” said Leachman.

Studies show that about 80 percent of natural redheads possess an altered MC1R gene, the gene that helps the skin make normal brown-colored skin pigment when exposed to the sun. A changed MCR1 gene in redheads causes red hair sun sensitivity and increased risk for skin cancer; scientists don’t completely understand this effect. To help drive awareness about melanoma and other skin cancers within the redhead community, Redhead Event — a non-profit with a mission of holding educational and entertaining events to raise awareness for melanoma — teamed up with OHSU. The group will lead an attempt to break the current Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people with naturally red hair.

“As a redhead myself, I am thrilled to partner with Sancy and team to help educate the redheaded community about skin cancer risks,” said Rusty Weise, lead organizer for Redhead Event. “It’s a rare and wonderful experience for the naturally red-haired young and young at heart to be surrounded by 2,000 or more fellow redheads, and the opportunity to break the Guinness record is a memory of a lifetime."

Redhead Event will offer "Edu-tainment," featuring live music, Irish dancers, and food vendors.

Event attendees can:

  • Receive free private skin checks from OHSU clinicians and the Portland dermatology community.
  • Participate in research by donating blood or saliva samples to the OHSU Knight BioLibrary to advance the understanding of melanoma.
  • Hear brief presentations by OHSU researchers. Topics include:
  • Participate in the 5th Annual NW Melanoma 5k Walk and Fun Run. AIM at Melanoma and SolSurvivors, local not-for-profits, will host a community walk to raise awareness of skin cancer. Brendan Curti, M.D., Providence Cancer Center researcher, will address the crowd to kick off the fun run. All net proceeds from the fun run will support the Melanoma Tissue Bank at OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.
  • Join the Melanoma Community Registry, an interactive group project that provides melanoma survivors, their families and friends the opportunity to join a team devoted to fighting the lethal disease and to make life better for those impacted by it. Leachman and team launched the registry in May 2014 and in just two years have amassed more than 5,800 participants.


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