I am on a personal campaign to show the world that barbers and hairdressers can save lives. When I worked as a hairdresser I saw health warnings on the top of people’s heads that only a hairdresser was best placed to noticed. However, I was ignorant to the signs and fearful of addressing something that didn’t seem like my area of expertise. I’m talking about a myriad of signs and symptoms on the scalp denoting a number of underlying health concerns. But a little brown spot is by far the most ominous sign of them all.
Little brown spots bearing certain characteristics can actually be melanoma of the scalp. I didn’t know this until I became a trichologist. Clinical Trichology is a specialist branch of dermatology that is dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of hair and scalp conditions. Trichologists investigate things like hair loss conditions (which have many causes), eczema and psoriasis of the scalp, infections and infestations on the head and more. One of the most powerful things I learnt while training as a trichologist is the ability to differentiate a cancerous mole of the skin from a benign one.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that arises from melanocytes, which are the cells in the skin that produce pigment (melanin). It is most often caused by excess UV light from the sun or tanning beds. According to cancer research UK, this is the 5th most common cancer in the UK, with over 15,000 new cases each year, rising 7% year on year in the UK. Melanoma almost always begins with a mole or freckle, which can appear on the scalp too. In fact, a study published in the dermatology journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Dermatology) found that while 6% of melanomas were originating from the scalp or neck yet they accounted for 10% of deaths from melanoma. They went on to show that scalp or neck cancers had a death rate that was almost 2 times higher than melanomas arising from other places. This suggests that scalp or neck melanomas are the most lethal and researchers suggest that this increased risk is down to delayed diagnosis. This is a wonder to me because surely, a man or women who visits the salon or barber even just once or twice a year should not have to worry about melanoma of the scalp.
A story titled ‘How my Hair Dresser Saved my Life’ was reported on the Today Show, and it chronicled how a hairdresser saw an oversized freckle on the back of her clients scalp that she’d never seen before. She knew that this was an ominous symbol and suggested that her client see a dermatologist about it. It turned out to be stage zero melanoma, easily fixed by surgery. But the sister of this hairdresser works in dermatology and had given her sister this level of awareness, meaning this was not the ordinary hairdresser.
That’s why I advocate that all cosmetologists learn how to differentiate these moles or freckles the way trichologists and dermatologists do. In this way cosmetologists can become truly competent as a safeguard for health and wellness. It’s actually as simple as ‘ABCDE.’ Quite literally, ‘ABCDE’ will show you how to differentiate a mole or freckle from a cancer. ‘A’ means it will be ‘asymmetrical’ in shape. ‘B’ means it will have an irregular as opposed to smooth ‘border’. ‘C’ means it will have more than one ‘colour’, or an uneven distribution of colour. ‘D’ means the ‘diameter’ will be more than 6mm most of the time. Lastly ‘E’ means ‘evolution’, this is to say when a mole or freckle has changed in size or colour, bring it to the attention of your GP immediately. Understandably, if its hidden by your hair, you may never know, and your doctor hardly ever has a reason to examine your scalp. But there’s no spot on your head that your hairdresser or barber won’t see. So why don’t they know their ABCDEs?
orginal study about melanoma of scalp or neck: