PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Health & Science University has declared a 'war on melanoma' and is recruiting unusual foot soldiers for the job: hair dressers, makeup artists, masseurs, nail technicians and tattoo artists.

Oregon has one of the worst rates of skin cancer in the nation so the idea is to educate professionals whose jobs involve looking at skin to the warning signs of melanoma.

To bolster its efforts, OHSU and the Knight Cancer Institute are having a skincare festival this weekend to raise awareness and add more skin-care volunteers to their program, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.

"If we can teach people about what to look for with melanoma . (and) anything that is a melanoma gets taken off early, we've beat the problem I think," said Sancy Leachman, chair of the dermatology department at OHSU.

Leachman was recruited to Oregon from Texas by the Knight Cancer Institute a few years ago. Since then, she's been working to see whether teaching people about skin cancer can reduce the disease. The first step, she said, is establishing a baseline.

"We know currently how deep the melanomas are on average in Oregon. What about after we give that public health campaign? Did those depths go down?" she said.

Leachman wants to know how public education affects everything from the melanoma death rate to the cost of treatment.

She's recruiting people into a nationwide registry, which already numbers almost 8,000 in Oregon. Leachman is also looking for people who've already had skin cancer, families with a history of the disease and redheads who are at higher risk. She's even interested in people with no link to the disease because maybe they'll illustrate a trait that reduces their risk.

Her hope is that instead of only being able to study patients, scientists will be able to use the registry to access dozens of similar cases at the touch of a button.

Once Leachman establishes that baseline for the cancer, skin care professionals can play a big role in prevention, she said.

Esther Prentice, a 31-year-old hair dresser at Gilly's Salon in Southeast Portland, has been recruited as one of Leachman's skin care professionals.

Prentice already warns clients about unusual rashes or spots once every few months, but she's not always comfortable doing it.

"As soon as you say (cancer), people are like: 'What!' Because there's that fear," she said.

But cancer specialists say Prentice shouldn't be shy about her efforts, because melanoma is the one type of cancer that doesn't usually need expensive medical scans to find.

If it's caught early, treatment can be as simple as snipping off a small piece of skin. But if a melanoma remains untreated, it can metastasize and spread throughout the body.

"If you have a metastatic melanoma, even with the best therapies that we've got, the best chance that you've probably got is about 50 percent chance. Fifty-fifty is not what people want to hear," Leachman said.

OHSU and the Knight Cancer Institute also have developed a "Mole Mapper" app that can be downloaded onto an iPhone. People can take a picture of their mole, add it to a nationwide database, and track it to see if it grows. It compares the blemish to a coin, so people can see if it changes size, shape or color.

Researchers hope people will use it to track their moles and contribute to crowd sourcing research.

Leachman said Oregonians should be taking their skin care seriously because skin cancer is more associated with being burned, than the actual amount of sun.

"Because people stay inside with all the rain during the winter, they have a higher tendency to burn and they have a tendency to take vacations in sunny environments where they get burned," she said. "Oregon is always like in the top five incident rates of melanoma in the country. And that's just a shock to people. They have no idea."

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Information from: KOPB-FM, http://news.opb.org