SUU Students Pilot Skin Cancer Project with Area Cosmetologists

Published: October 31, 2019 | Author: David Bishop | Read Time: 3 minutes

Skin Cancer Project groupWith Utah suffering the highest melanoma rate in the United States, Southern Utah University (SUU) students are now helping rally a first line of defense: hairdressers who regularly look at people’s scalps, where the deadliest melanomas often form.

SUU students spent months working on a new research project to discover what type of training hairdressers in southern Utah receive in recognizing skin lesions. SUU donor Stephen W. Gibson had the idea to start this project after his hairdresser found a lesion on his scalp. 

“This project started after my hairdresser informed me about a suspicious-looking lesion on my own head,” said Gibson. “I went to the dermatologist, and he found that my lesion was indeed melanoma, which he surgically removed. Without my hairdresser’s tip, I wouldn’t have discovered my cancer until later, by which time it could’ve metastasized and become deadly. If we can help save even one additional life by encouraging hairdressers, it’s worth the effort.”

Gibson wanted to see if hairdressers were being trained to recognize skin lesions on their clients and enlisted several SUU students to help with the project. Those students, Brandon Johnson, Abigail Bishop, Andrew Jones, and Colin Rosander, are all members of the Rural Health Scholars program. 

"I heard about this project through the Rural Health Scholars which I have been involved with since I was a freshman. Skin cancers are very common in Southern Utah, and I thought involving hairdressers and barbers in the detection process was a really novel idea,” said SUU student Andrew Jones. “Stephen Gibson's vision was exciting, so I decided to contribute to the cause along with some classmates. Overall, it has been a good learning experience, and the information we've collected is insightful for education and awareness purposes. I definitely have a better appreciation for the research behind so many amazing health initiatives.”

Throughout the summer, the students -- led by Johnson (pre-medical student) -- conducted 83 surveys at hair salons and barber shops throughout Iron and Washington counties to evaluate the knowledge hairdressers have in recognizing skin lesions. Bishop (pre-medical student), Rosander (pre-dental student), and Jones (pre-medical student) took part in creating the survey and contacting hair salons encouraging hairdresser to complete the “Eyes on Cancer” certification. The certification teaches beauty professionals how to spot skin lesions and refer clients to doctors. 

In one example of the success of the outreach, all of the cosmetologists at Hair Nation in Cedar City earned their certification. When the owners of Hair Nation were asked why they chose to have everyone at their salon certified they said, “We felt that we the stylists are the only ones that see the scalp on a regular basis. We love our clients and want to help them any way we can.” 

Hairstylists or barbers looking to receive the “Eyes on Cancer” certification, can begin the process by going to the following website: The training is free of charge. 

The Rural Health Scholars program is available at Southern Utah University as well as Dixie State University, Snow College, and Utah State University-Eastern in Price. 

Through a partnership with the University Of Utah School Of Medicine, this program helps students in their application process for medical, nursing, podiatry, dental, pharmacy, and other health professions programs.  

For more information about the Utah Center for Rural Health programs, contact Casey Lavoie 435-865-8661 or visit

Tags: Regional Services Rural Health Scholars

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