Hair professionals are potential front line for skin cancer detection
Physicians and patients could benefit from hair professionals being trained to help in the early detection of skin cancer on the scalp, neck and face, a study says.
Nearly 60% of 203 hair professionals surveyed at 17 salons in the Houston area said they already had recommended at least once that a customer see a health professional for an abnormal mole, said a report in the October Archives of Dermatology (archderm.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/147/10/1159/).
In addition, 37% looked at more than half of their customers’ scalps for suspicious lesions during the previous month, 29% checked more than half of their customers’ necks, and 30% looked at more than half of their customers’ faces.
Scalp and neck melanomas represent 6% of all melanomas, and they account for 10% of melanoma deaths in the United States.
Hair professionals could help with earlier detection of these cancers, said Alan C. Geller, MPH, RN, a study author and senior lecturer at Harvard School of Public Health.
“The scalp is a perfect example of a place for many late-term melanomas because patients aren’t looking at their head,” Geller said. “I am encouraged by how many [hair professionals] are already looking [for lesions]. Going forward, we don’t have to start from scratch.”
The study said hair professionals are a logical choice to serve as an early detector of skin cancer. They have a “natural view of the scalp, neck and face; spend an extended period with each customer; and often act as a source of advice and information on health-related issues.” They also can reach groups, including men and the poor, who have worse skin cancer outcomes and are less likely to see physicians for regular screening.
Training hair professionals will be key, Geller said. Researchers are evaluating the impact of a 20-minute education session that addresses skin cancer and the role that hair professionals can play in its early detection and prevention. Pamphlets and customer information cards also are being used to facilitate discussions.
Andrew F. Alexis, MD, MPH, said he has had many female patients come into his office after hair stylists told them to see a dermatologist.
“Most of the cases referred to me via hairdressers are alopecias, benign moles or growths and common inflammatory skin disorders that can affect the scalp. While I have not yet had any skin cancers diagnosed in this way, this is always a possibility,” said Dr. Alexis, director of the Skin of Color Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.
He believes educational materials about melanoma and features of skin cancers of the scalp would be useful for hair stylists and could help with early detection. “I would strongly support any efforts to educate hairdressers in this way,” he said.
Many hair professionals are eager to learn more about screening clients for suspicious lesions, the study showed. Among survey participants, nearly half were “very” or “extremely” interested in participating in a skin cancer education program. Nearly 70% were “somewhat” or “very likely” to give customers a skin cancer information pamphlet during an appointment.
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