Kelly Margolin, owner of Tangles Hair Salon on Main Street in Norway, cuts a customer’s hair. (Sun Journal photo by Jon Bolduc)

BUCKFIELD — Joan Abrams, owner of Hair Solutions in Buckfield, has her eyes on the backs of her customers’ heads. Someday, she could save a life.

Abrams said her position as a hairdresser provides a perfect vantage point to spot suspicious abnormalities on her clients’ skin and scalps.

Abrams became a hairdresser in 1979 and has owned Hair Solutions since 1987. After attending a training session years ago, she has been on the lookout for potentially cancerous spots.

“If there’s a spot I notice in their hair, I grab their cellphone and take a picture of it,” Abrams said. “We compare to see if there’s any change. That way they have it right on their phone to show their physician if they do end up going.”

According to Abrams, people who work closely with hair and skin are in the perfect positions to spot melanoma in its early stages, when the chances of recovery are much greater. Abrams said she knows what to look for.

“Any change is huge. Anything that’s not symmetrical, has a funny color or suddenly changes or looks different after a long time,” she said. “All I do is point it out. I say, ‘There’s been a change, I think you should bring it up with your doctor.’ Observation, that’s about all I do.”

Last year, Abrams attended “Skinny on Skin,” a presentation by the Dempsey Center at the Cancer Resource Center of Western Maine in Norway, where hair professionals were taught how to screen for suspicious moles.

Dr. Vinny Seiverling, director of the dermatology division at the Maine Medical Center in Portland and assistant professor of dermatology at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, spoke at the presentation.

He said in a telephone interview Feb. 25 that “Skinny on Skin” was started by a group called IMPACT Melanoma in response to melanoma rates in the Northeast and Maine, which have some of the highest rates in the country.

“Many times, patients with skin cancer don’t see a dermatologist because there’s a terrible shortage of dermatologists,” he said. “A patient’s primary care doctor, massage therapists and hairdressers are people the patients are seeing often, and they’re at the first of the line to be able to identify.”

Kelly Margolin, owner of Tangles Hair Salon in Norway, checks her clients’ heads and has noticed suspicious spots.

“I was doing my client’s hair. She had a spot above her ear, on the side of her head, that was three colors and an odd shape,” Margolin said. “I said: ‘You really should get that looked at, it does not look good. It looks exactly like what they tell you the warning signs are.'”

Margolin said the client went to a dermatologist. And while the spot on her head was not cancerous, doctors found multiple spots on her face that were, and removed them.

“I don’t think (hairdressers) should ever assume the customer know it’s there, and risk embarrassment,” she said. “It’s better to say something than think, ‘I don’t want to embarrass them.'”

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