Should hairdressers scan for cancer?

BBC News today reported a call for hairdressers to get skin cancer training. Health experts in America say that hairdressers can and should be trained to check their clients for skin cancer.

photo showing back of a man's head
Wash, Cut and Cancer Screening Sir?

It is estimated that about 100,000 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year. The most harmful type of skin cancer, called malignant melanoma, kills more than 2,500 people in the UK every year.

In women, the cancers occur most commonly on the legs. For men, it is the back. But up to a fifth affect the skin of the head and neck.

Lesions on the scalp and the back of the neck can easily go unnoticed, and experts say hairdressers are the ideal people to spot these.

Writing in the latest edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, US doctors say: “We should not wait for our patients with skin cancer to come to us when it may be too late, but use research and outreach methods to improve early detection of head and neck melanomas by capitalising on the role of hairdressers and their unique relationship with our potential clients.”

Hairdressers would not be expected to make the diagnosis, but instead to tactfully point out any lumps, bumps or sores they find to their client who can bring it to the attention of their own doctor.

Most cases are preventable – skin cancer is caused by too much exposure to UV light from the sun or sunbeds. People at greatest risk are those with fair, freckled skin and lots of moles.

Signs to be aware of include changes to moles, such as itching, bleeding or changing shape or colour. Rates have been increasing over recent years.

The BBC report says anecdotal research suggests such training is achievable, and work carried out by Nottingham City Hospital NHS Trust found of those hairdressers polled most were keen to do take on the extra responsibility.

Campaigners say the checks could become routine, alongside a cut and blow dry, in the UK’s 36,000 hair salons. What do you think? What would you do if you saw something that could be a melanoma?

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