College enlists new recruits in skin cancer fight

4 minute read

The newly launched course helps hairdressers, tattoo artists and other professionals alert patients to skin changes.

A new training course aimed at hairdressers, tattoo artists, beauticians and allied health professionals to help them identify irregular marks on the skin and alert patients has been launched in Australia.

The Skin Cancer College Australasia rolled out the five-module course in late November to coincide with National Skin Cancer Action week and within days had more than 140 people register.

The course has been developed by skin cancer doctors in response to anecdotal reports of patients presenting to skin cancer doctors after an irregular mark on their skin was noticed by their hairdresser or other therapist.

The college’s CEO Lynette Hunt told The Medical Republic that while there was no official data on this reporting, “nearly every skin cancer GP tells of patients coming in for a skin check” because they were alerted to something unusual on their skin by a therapist or allied health professional.

“We often hear stories from our member doctors of people turning up to their skin cancer GP after their hairdresser, massage therapist or podiatrist noticed something different about their skin,’’ she said.

“These workers see parts of our skin which we can’t easily see ourselves such as behind the ears, the scalp, or between our toes.”

Queensland radiation epidemiologist and Skin Cancer College Australasia director Professor Michael Kimlin said that in a country with the worst rates of skin cancer in the world, it made sense to spread the front line in the fight against skin cancer as widely as possible by increasing awareness and educating as many Australians as possible about skin lesions.

“Just getting people to visit their skilled medical professional is a huge problem in this country,’’ Professor Kimlin said.

“Not enough lives are being saved because a deadly skin cancer was not detected early enough. Prevention of course is the long-term solution to this problem but the fact remains that there are large sections of the population walking around now with skin cancers that need to be treated.

“These are the people GPs need to be seeing right now and anyone who can help get them into their doctors’ rooms is a life saver.’’

Ms Hunt said the course rollout was prompted by the knowledge that hairdressers and other therapists see their clients’ skin on a regular basis and can be a strong influence in encouraging people to see a doctor about suspicious changes on their skin.

“We are not aware of any similar programs in Australia. We understand there may be a similar program available in North America,” she said.

She said the feedback so far had been “very positive”.

“We have also had great feedback from industry bodies representing the aesthetic and beauty industry,” Ms Hunt said.

“Official hairdressing and beauty therapy industry training programs include very little information about skin cancer, so having access to this resource is a great help.”

And while a lot of the initial attention from the course’s national launch was on hairdressers, the training was open to anyone who worked in a field where they encountered people’s skin.

“It’s designed for anyone who sees a lot of skin in their daily work,” Ms Hunt said.

“For example, beauticians, massage therapists, makeup artists, podiatrists, physiotherapists, nail artists, tattoo artists, and so on.”

The online course takes participants through five easy training modules introducing what skin cancer is, skin cancer risks and prevention, recognising suspicious lesions, skin cancer checks and treatments and how they can help.

“Describing how to start a conversation with clients in a friendly and non-threatening way is especially helpful because talking about skin cancer can be a difficult or scary subject for many people,” she said.

The course takes about an hour to complete and is available free of charge until 31 January. After that it will cost $25, Ms Hunt said.

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath has thrown her support behind the initiative, after her hairdresser spotted an irregularity on her scalp that turned out to be a melanoma.

“Thanks to her vigilance I made an appointment with my doctor straight away and was booked in for treatment soon after,’’ Ms D’Ath said.  “Hairdressers can play a role in detecting skin cancers, so it’s great to see this new online resource being made available to them.”

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