Hair stylists, barbers could help detect skin cancer

By Tom Nordlie • Published: January 12th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Nobody sees your scalp like the person who cuts your hair. That unique vantage point means stylists and barbers can warn clients about early signs of skin cancer … if they know what to look for.

A study published in the journal Archives of Dermatology suggests that hair professionals are willing to take on the task. They just need education.

And statistics say the effort would be worthwhile.

Melanoma, the most serious skin cancer, is responsible for almost 50,000 deaths each year, worldwide. It’s an especially serious problem among Caucasians who live in sunny climates.

Melanomas of the scalp and neck account for about 6 percent of all melanoma cases in the U.S., and 10 percent of the melanoma deaths.

The disproportionately high death rate is probably due to the fact that self-examination doesn’t work well for the scalp or back of the neck. That’s where hair professionals could help.

For the study, about 200 stylists filled out surveys asking about their knowledge, attitudes and routine practices related to skin cancer detection.

About one-quarter of them had received formal skin cancer education. And half the participants said they were interested in learning more. As far as surveillance, more than one-third of stylists said they checked each client’s scalp for possible growths in at least half of their appointments. And almost one-third said they examined clients’ necks at least half the time.

So it seems logical to give hair professionals a greater chance to identify problems and communicate their findings. The study authors are developing a training module to help facilitate those goals.

Perhaps one day, the salon won’t just be a place hair is snipped — it’ll be somewhere skin cancers get nipped … in the bud.