How a hairdresser can save your life

Michelle, right, spotted a cancerous mark on Karin, left. Credit: Provided
Stylist Michelle Campbell, right, spotted a cancerous mark on Karin Dumas.
Credit: Provided

Cathy Shattuck thought she was just going in for a haircut.

The Chelmsford, Mass., resident had an appointment with her stylist, Sal Malafronte, at Salon Mario Russo in Boston. But she never thought she’d leave that day with a scary revelation.

“He was cutting my hair and going through it,” Shattuck says. “He just said, ‘Geez, there’s a little something funky there. You should probably get it checked out.’ I thought, if this person thinks that it should be checked, then I definitely should.”

What Malafronte noticed was a mole that was asymmetrical and off-color.

“When I saw it on her head, it looked a little unusual, a little darker than it should have been, and the sides were a little jagged. It looked like it had spread a bit from its original form,” says Malafronte, artistic director at Salon Mario Russo.

Upon a visit to her doctor, Shattuck learned the mole was basal cell carcinoma — skin cancer.

“It turned out I had three areas of cancer,” says Shattuck, who underwent Mohs surgery to have the moles removed. Now with a clean bill of health, her story is just one of many where a hairstylist may have saved a client’s life.

“The Skinny on Skin” is an initiative created by the Melanoma Foundation of New England that provides free training to hair and beauty professionals to detect dangerous moles. Lesions on the head and scalp account for 5 percent of all melanoma, and due to the likelihood of late detection in that area, melanoma on the head and scalp is responsible for 10 percent of all melanoma deaths. It’s grave statistics like those that keep the program growing, training more than 300 stylists in the Northeast so far.

Michelle Campbell, owner of Hair Plus Salon in Norway, Maine, is one of those trained stylists. After encouraging her client Karin Dumas to have a growing mole on her scalp checked out for years, it was discovered that Dumas also had basal cell carcinoma.

After surgery to remove the cancerous mole, Dumas is cancer-free, and Campbell has a client for life.

“Even if I moved out of state, I would probably go back to her,” Dumas says, “because I am eternally grateful.”

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, responsible for 71 percent of all fatal skin cancers.

Who is at risk?

While anyone can get melanoma, there are some groups that are at a higher risk than others. They are:

  • White males over age 50
  • Those with family members who have had melanoma
  • People who spend a lot of time exposed to ultraviolet light, particularly tanning and burning
  • People with atypical moles

How do I prevent skin cancer?

  • Wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, even in colder and rainy weather.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing like a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Do not lay out in the sun or in tanning beds.
  • Conduct self-examinations regularly.

All info courtesy of the Melanoma Foundation of New England.


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