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CANCER & HAIR LOSS » Living With Hair Loss
Living With Hair Loss Courageously

Hair loss is usually considered to be a concern of men, but can affect men and women. Scalp and facial hair (eyebrows, eye lashes, beard in men) contribute to the "self" that one wants to present to the world. (See The Psychosocial Significance of Hair). While some people losing their hair is easy to understand and for others it causes much concern, anxiety and stress.

No matter the cause, hair loss is a sensitive subject. With hair loss there are often thoughts of how it can be avoided, or corrected by medical or surgical treatment to make it appear that hair loss never occurred.

Hair Loss and Chemotherapy

Hair loss caused by chemotherapy to treat cancer is often the first outward sign that a person is dealing with the disease. Until the last two decades, it was customary for a patient dealing with chemotherapy related hair loss to remain secluded from society or cover their heads as to not attract attention or make others uncomfortable. Over the last decade or two, some cancer patients, cancer survivors and the medical professionals who treat them have made hair loss as a side effect of chemotherapy symbol of courage in their battle and desire to beat cancer. It is often seen as a hopeful sign of the road to recovery.

Among the first to present hair loss as a symbol of the fight against the disease were breast cancer patients and survivors (see http://www.breastcancer.org). Cancer patients and survivors who proudly display their hair loss include those with a variety of soft-tissue cancers, bone cancers, and Leukemia. Children are cancer patients and cancer survivors, also, and similar efforts have been organized in their behalf by charitable organizations such as the Childhood Leukemia Foundation (see http://www.clf4kids.org). While the most visible side effect of chemotherapy is hair loss, other side effects can include weight loss, nausea, pain, fatigue and loss of appetite.

When cancer patients and cancer survivors began to proudly present hair loss as a symbol of courage in their battle against cancer, the public increasingly accepted this symbol of courage manifested by the children and adults who faced pain and death and intended to survive.

The Patient's View

A patient who is experiencing hair loss as a consequence of disease and a side effect of chemotherapy may not worry about their hair loss, may wear it as a symbol to motivate them in their fight against the disease, but they may also have reasons to moderate the esthetic effect of balding. Reasons to moderate the effect may be associated with family, occupation or inter-personal relationships.

When hair loss is due to chemotherapy, it is important for the patient to know that the hair loss will likely be temporary. Hair will grow back at the end of the chemotherapy treatment period, usually beginning a few weeks after treatment ends. The American Cancer Society offers comprehensive information regarding chemotherapy, its side effects, and how side effects can be ameliorated (see http://www.cancer.org.

Patients should be prepared for some differences in the appearance of their hair when it grows back. When hair begins to grow again after chemotherapy, the new hair may have a different texture or color for up to a year. In most cases, hair will return to its pre-treatment appearance.

During the period between hair loss and re-growth, the patient may choose to take measures that disguise hair loss. Consultation with a cosmetologist experienced in managing hair problems of chemotherapy patients may be helpful.

Interim measures between hair loss and re-growth include head coverings such as scarves, hats or caps. For some patients the appearance of a full head of hair during the treatment and re-growth is desired and wigs offer a good solution. A patient should check with his/her insurance plan to see if the cost of a wig will be wholly or partially covered. A patient who has adequate warning as to when chemotherapy is to begin may have a wig prepared in advance of treatment.

Hair is a salient element in the way we want to appear to ourselves and to others. Hair loss due to chemotherapy is now better understood and whatever the patient solution to this condition caused by the treatment of cancer, it is accepted as the appearance of a survivor and a champion.