By Kristine Johnson

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — You think of your hairdresser as saving you from bad hair days. But now, your favorite stylist just may save your life. Doctors say they’re increasingly spotting skin cancer that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Glenda Vanry has trusted her hairdresser, Roger Least, to style her hair–for more than a decade.

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“My hair has been blonde, my hair’s been red,” vanry said.

But recently, he gave her more than a cut and a color, he gave her an impromptu cancer screening.

“I happened to notice a little irritation behind her ear,” Least said.

“He was insistent that I had to go to the doctor about it,” Vanry said.

Eventually, Vanry did go to the doctor.

“My diagnosis was basal-cell cancer, it had spread both depth wise, it had reached the skull,” Vanry said.

Vanry isn’t the only one. Doctors say more and more hairdressers are saving lives.

“Hair stylists are often the first line of defense against skin cancers,” said Robert Pariser President of the American Dermatology Association.

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Researchers with the Harvard School of Public Health surveyed 200 different stylists and found as many as 40 percent now check their customers’ scalps for suspicious moles and lesions.

Stylist Patricia Ingmire-Richard said she can count on two hands the cancer cases she’s discovered over the years.

“Six. And some of them have been pretty serious,” she said.

Cathy Reese is one of Ingmire-Richard’s lucky clients. She found a small bump on Reese’s scalp that turned out to be a malignent tumor.

At least 6 percent of all melanomas are actually found on the scalp and neck, according to Dr. Robert Pariser, President of the American Dermatology Association. He says that number would be much greater if it wasn’t for the intervention of hair stylists.

“It gives them some heads up as the kind of things they let their clients know that the doctor needs to see,” Pariser said.

What’s also helping in the fight against skin cancer is cosmetology schools across the country teaching students how to identify suspicious spots on a client’s scalp.

It’s not easy to tell a client that they may have cancer but both Vanry and Reese — who are now cancer free — say they’re incredibly grateful their stylists not only care about their looks, but also their health.

According to the Harvard study, 28 percent of the stylists they surveyed had formal skin cancer education. The American Dermatology Association is now working with the industry to increase that number.

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Kristine Johnson