Cancer is a brutal disease. Worldwide, there are over eight million deaths attributed to cancer each year. No other disease has a more significant societal, economic impact, and no other disease is able to wreak such havoc on patient’s emotional state so dramatically. It is not uncommon for cancer patients to experience deeply troubled emotions and develop severe adjustment issues. In the best of cases, when they are lucky enough to be presented with a positive expectancy of survival, they generally have to deal with aggressive and often painful treatments. Different types of Cancer such as Lung Cancer from excessive smoking of cigarettes are especially problematic.
Chemotherapy, or Chemo, is one of the most common methods used to treat the various diseases we collectively call cancer. Chemotherapy can refer to just one or several anti-cancer drugs given to the patient with the intent to eradicate or slow the growth of tumors. Most traditional chemotherapeutic agents are cytotoxic. Cytotoxicity refers to a chemical’s ability to inhibit cell division; in other words, Chemotherapy aims to “poison” cells and cause enough damage to activate apoptosis or cellular death.
Most of the adverse side effects experienced by patients undergoing Chemotherapy are due to the fact that the cytotoxic agents that make up the drugs cannot differentiate between cancerous cells and normal ones. Any type of cell characterized by a rapid division phase is susceptible to becoming collateral damage. Cells found in bone marrow, alongside the gastrointestinal tract, and in hair follicles are the most at risk.
CHEMOTHERAPY INDUCED ALOPECIA
Hair loss is without a doubt one of the most traumatic events associated with Cancer and Chemotherapeutic treatments; yet surprisingly, it is one that is often overlooked by physicians. However, Chemotherapy-induced hair loss, or alopecia, regularly generates profound psychosocial stress and a drastic reduction in a patient’s quality of life. Because of Chemotherapy-induced Alopecia, cancer patients are habitually developing depression and anxiety in addition to all other physical symptoms. This extra baggage might even cause some cancer patients to forego chemotherapy in order to avoid having to deal with the stress of a noticeable hair loss. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that we do all we can to help alleviate this pain.
Patients begin experiencing hair loss as soon as two weeks after the initial treatment. Hair loss associated with Chemotherapy can manifest in different degrees of severity. Some patients experience a total loss of scalp and body hair. Other patients deal with less drastic loss; for example, some patients experience alopecia areata, which is a loss of hair in spots around the scalp. Others still, only experience a thinning or shedding of hair. Although cases of permanent hair loss have been reported in the literature, most of the follicular damage sustained during chemotherapy treatments are reversible. In fact, some patients will even begin to see new hair growth before the end of their treatment.
This amount of variability is highly dependent on the specific chemotherapeutic agents being utilized in the treatment. Some drugs affect some patients more than others. Thankfully, there are few precautions patients are able to take before and after chemotherapy to counteract any hair loss caused by cancer treatment.
KEEPING POSITIVE DURING HARD TIMES! KEEP A SENSE OF HUMOUR…
- Avoid vigorous brushing.
- Making braids, ponytails, and using devices such as flat irons can significantly exacerbate the issue.
- Cut your hair short during chemotherapy. Since hair does not fall out evenly, by cutting your hair short, you can make it less apparent.
- Be gentle when washing your hair. Use mild shampoos and avoid dyeing your hair.
- Air dry as much as possible and avoid using heated hair dryers
- Wear a hair net while you sleep.
- Wear a soft scarf or turban during the day
- Use sunscreen on your scalp and always wear hats when under sunlight.
- Start a regiment of Minoxidil to stimulate follicular growth
- Shampoo using products that contain the antifungal Ketoconazole as it serves to block DHT which is known to strain follicular health
- Eat a balanced diet rich in micronutrients. Hair growth is highly dependent on Vitamins A and B
- Continue gentle care of your scalp and growing hair. The first hairs to grow after chemotherapy tend to be brittle and fragile, so continue a gentle care to protect them as much as possible.
TOUGH MEN WILL PULL THROUGH….
One of the most promising and effective treatments for Chemotherapy-induced alopecia is that of Scalp Cooling or Scalp Hypothermia. The way this method works is by lowering the temperature of the scalp by several degrees. This cooling down is performed on the patient before, during, and after each Chemotherapy session. By doing this, doctors are able to do two things simultaneously. First, the lower temperature significantly constricts the blood vessels in the scalp that nourish the hair follicles. The reduced blood flow means a decrease in the number of cytotoxic agents that come into direct contact with the follicle. Second, the lower temperature efficiently slows down cellular activity; this means that the chemicals in anti-cancer drugs that affect rapidly reproducing cells have a harder time binding to the slowed hair cells.
Patients dealing with cancer diagnosis find the added stress of hair loss one of the most upsetting side effects of the disease. Hair loss is an inescapable reminder of the struggle they now continuously face for an indeterminate amount of time. Hair loss also robs many patients of their privacy; some people feel that chemotherapy balding broadcasts to the world a very private diagnosis. Despite the giant strides that the medical community has had in dealing with the disease itself, it is still struggling to find effective and immediate ways in to resolve chemotherapy-induced hair loss. We must do everything in our power to help our loved ones through this incredibly trying situation so that their sense of identity and well-being is restored.
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- Hesketh, Paul J., et al. “Chemotherapy-induced alopecia: psychosocial impact and therapeutic approaches.” Supportive Care in Cancer8 (2004): 543-549.
- Rosman, Sophia. “Cancer and stigma: experience of patients with chemotherapy-induced alopecia.” Patient education and counseling3 (2004): 333-339.
- Davis, Stephen T., et al. “Prevention of chemotherapy-induced alopecia in rats by CDK inhibitors.” Science5501 (2001): 134-137.
- Dmytriw, Adam A., Wojciech Morzycki, and Peter J. Green. “Prevention of alopecia in medical and interventional chemotherapy patients.” Journal of cutaneous medicine and surgery1 (2015): 11-16.
- Chemotherpay WIKI