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Hairdressers Against Skin Cancer

Alan Nichols, student working on the SCAN project

What if all hairdressers were trained to recognize signs of skin cancer? SCAN is making that idea a reality with 45-minute trainings for hairdressers.

Stephen Gibson’s hairdresser saved his life.

It started out as a normal day, but as Stephen was getting his normal haircut, Stephen's hairdresser noticed a lesion on Stephen's head and told him it might be a good idea to have a dermatologist look at it. Stephen eventually went to the dermatologist and discovered that he had to remove the melanoma before it could get to his blood and his brain.

Stephen got the melanoma out before it was too late, thanks to the careful eye of his hairdresser.

All of this got Stephen thinking. If all hairdressers were trained to spot the signs of skin cancer, what kind of difference would that make in the world?

That was the moment when SCAN (Engaging students in Skin Cancer Awareness) was born. SCAN is led by Derm. PA Mark Hyde, UVU public health professor Mary Brown, and students Mae-Llin Sorensen and Alan Nichols. Together they work with UVU to refer hairdressers to dermatologists and get hairdressers certified to recognize skin cancers. The hairdressers can be certified by completing a 45-minute training that includes a program called Eyes on Cancer. By completing this training and learning to recognize signs of skin cancer, hairdressers can become a secondary source for catching melanoma and can potentially save lives. And hairdressers are perfect for the job, they look at the back of your head more than you do!

All of this is important because skin cancer is more common than we like to think. Thanks to Utah’s altitude and the outdoor lifestyle many Utahns enjoy, Utah has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the United States.

That’s why SCAN is working to recruit as many hairdressers as possible to complete the training. That’s why SCAN applied for and received a $10,000 grant to create trainings so that hairdressers can be prepared to have conversations with their clients about skin cancer and create better and more versatile training options. And that’s why Alan Nichols, one of the students leading the project, will be presenting at the 2020 USOPHE Virtual Conference on Wednesday, October 7th. USOPHE (Utah Chapter of the Society for Public Education) is a great opportunity for students to present public health programs at a conference.

What’s Alan’s advice for fellow students? “Take all the opportunities you can. This wasn’t something I was expecting to be working on, but it’s something I think will make a difference.”

And what can the community do to support the cause? Alan encourages the community to encourage every hairdresser we know to complete the training.

Because, who knows, it might be that hairdresser who saves a life next!