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Scalp skin checks important for finding melanomas, hair professionals help out.

Could hair professionals lead a new front in the war against skin cancer? At least one melanoma patient credits her stylist with saving her life. “Sharon noticed a quarter-sized salmon-colored spot on my scalp,” Bonnie Sedlmayr-Emerson, of Tucson, AZ, told The Skin Cancer Foundation. “She said she’d never noticed it before and showed it to me in a mirror. She thought I should have it looked at.” A biopsy revealed that the spot was a melanoma, and it was deep. She is currently being treated with YervoyTM (ipilimumab), a groundbreaking drug for advanced melanoma. “I’ve had very positive results to date,” she said.

Sedlmayr-Emerson’s stylist is not alone in her commitment to her clients’ health: a survey of 203 Houston, TX-area hair professionals published in the Archives of Dermatology found that a significant number of cosmetologists and barbers are checking customers’ heads and necks for abnormal moles in an effort to help detect suspected skin cancers. Their observations could encourage some clients to see physicians promptly, and possibly have skin cancers diagnosed at an early stage, when they are almost always treatable.

Most skin cancers occur on sun-exposed areas, like the head and neck. Skin cancers of the scalp are easy for patients to over- look, which can delay their detection. This increases the risk of the cancer spreading, which can be deadly. Delayed detection could be one reason why melanomas of the scalp and neck make up six percent of all melanomas, but cause 10 percent of all melanoma deaths. [See “The Most Dangerous Melanomas,” below.]

The authors of the Archives of Dermatology report suggest that a skin cancer education program for hair professionals could increase early detection of skin cancers on the face, scalp, and neck; they are currently studying the benefits of one such program. Sedlmayr-Emerson, for one, doesn’t need to be convinced. She remains forever grateful to her stylist: “She’s my hairstylist and my lifesaver.”

Hairstylists get a close look at your scalp when you’re in the chair, and they can play a particularly important role in skin cancer detection, since melanomas of the scalp are more dangerous than those located anywhere else on the body. In a new study by researchers at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA, investigators found that only 58 percent of patients with scalp melanomas survived five years, compared to 77 percent of patients with melanomas on the arms, legs, hands, and feet. So be sure to inspect your scalp carefully whenever you perform a skin self-exam; The Skin Cancer Foundation advises everyone to check their skin head-to-toe monthly.

Source: The Skin Cancer Foundation. “Hairstylists Spot Skin Cancer Warning Signs.” Sun & Skin News, 29(3): 2012.

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