Your hairdresser sees a patch of your skin that few others do, and they may see it every few months. It’s an opportunity for the early detection of melanoma and other skin cancers that Sandy Allten doesn’t want to waste.
Allten is a clinical research nurse in the Cancer Institute at AdventHealth Daytona Beach and is spearheading an effort to train hairdressers to spot potentially cancerous moles on the scalp.
The training is simple — a 20-minute video and a quiz. But it’s enough for virtually anyone to develop a basic understanding of when a mole doesn’t look quite right.
“And that’s all we’re asking,” Allten said — an extra pair of eyes. The video developed by www.EyesonCancer.org also includes descriptions of melanoma and other types of skin cancer, including basal and squamous cell skin cancer.
Finding melanoma early, before it spreads to other parts of the body, is a critical part of effective treatment. When a person finds melanoma in its first stage, they have a 98 percent chance of surviving for five years.
“The majority of the time, especially when it is detected early, skin cancer removal is a simple, small procedure,” said Richard V. Cashio, MD, a plastic surgeon and chief of surgery at AdventHealth Palm Coast. “Skin cancer caught later can be very traumatic for patients, depending on its size, location and type, and it can require a variety of invasive treatments.”
Launching the Training Program
Before she joined AdventHealth, Allten worked with melanoma patients as a cancer research nurse in Boston, where she acquired a passion to prevent and treat the disease.
About a year ago, she read about a doctor who had enlisted hairdressers to search their clients’ scalps for cancer.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s genius,’” Allten said.
So she wrote a grant request to the Bill Walter III Melanoma Research Fund, whose namesake passed away from melanoma in 1998 at the age of 36. Bill Walter III was a lifeguard in high school and college at a time when there was less emphasis on sunscreen.
The request was successful and funded the unlimited use of the training and quiz. Now, their goal is to persuade hairdressers and others to get educated about melanoma.
The effort has the support of physicians like Dr. Cashio, who say it’s a great complement, though not a replacement, to annual screenings.
“I think it is a great idea for hairstylists to become educated on the various types of skin cancer and help detect any changes in the skin that people might not normally see,” he said.
At the center of this training are the five warning signs that a mole may be a sign of melanoma.
Learning Your Melanoma ABCDEs
Most people, especially those with lighter skin, have moles. And new ones can develop for both children and adults.
The key is to know when a mole shows signs of potentially being cancerous. Look for these five warning signs, called the ABCDE rule:
- A for Asymmetry: A mole that doesn’t look the same on both sides.
- B for Border: The edges of the mole are not even.
- C for Color: The mole contains different color.
- D for Diameter: The mole is larger than a pea.
- E for Evolving: The mole is getting larger or changing in shape or color.
The ABCDE rule is a guide to spotting potential melanoma and not a list for every type of skin cancer.
For example, a skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma looks round and symmetric, and it isn’t dark in color like moles, said Dr. Cashio.
“This doesn’t fit with the ABCDE guidelines, but it is still a very serious skin cancer,” he said. “Because there are so many different types and unique presentations of skin cancer, any new or changing skin lesion should be evaluated by a physician.”
Dr. Cashio prefers his patients are vigilant about a mole or mark they’re not sure about, even if it turns out to be benign. Patients often tell him that they didn’t think a mole was a problem because it didn’t hurt. The problem is, skin cancer doesn’t usually cause pain, he said.
Moreover, skin cancer can happen anywhere on your skin, not just the areas exposed to the sun.
“Skin cancer can appear on your feet and between your toes, on your ears — literally anywhere on the skin,” Dr. Cashio said.
It can even appear on the back of the knee, as former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres recently revealed.
Spreading the Word
As of April, nearly 100 people have completed the test. To get details and a free coupon code to watch the 20-minute video and quiz, visit www.hairstylistmelanomachallenge.com. After you’re done, print out the certificate.
It can be hard to remember all the warning signs months afterward, so the website also includes pictures of problem moles that can be referred back to.
“My hairdresser keeps it right on her phone, and it gives her a little more confidence,” Allten said.
Stylists feel empowered when they’re able to help their clients look good while keeping an eye on their health. For clients, too, the feeling of being valued goes more than skin deep.
“That shows me, yes, I want my hair to look great, but she also cares about me as a client,” she said.
And it’s not only for hairdressers. “Really, it’s for everyone, we’re all in this, we can all do this.”
In Florida, it is even more important to share melanoma know-how: your risk for developing melanoma doubles if you have had more than five sunburns, Dr. Cashio said.