Help for Some Cancer Related Hair Loss

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager Emeritus, Oncology Social Work

DECEMBER 12, 2018

Tell us your cancer hair-loss story

We all know about hair loss related to some cancer chemotherapy drugs. Called alopecia, it is often the most dreaded side effect of these potentially life-saving medications. Over the past 10 or 15 years, there has been huge progress in anti-nausea drugs, and many people complete months of chemo without ever vomiting. This has been a major advance in cancer care; I remember all too well when we handed small basins to people as they left the infusion area. We knew some would not even get to their cars before the vomiting began.

You may have heard about cold caps, a system of wearing tight frozen caps before, during and after a chemo infusion to reduce or even prevent hair loss. This system has been fairly successful with some drugs, specifically with the Taxanes, but it does not help with many others. It is also not covered by insurance and can cost hundreds of dollars per treatment.

Chemo drugs are the main cause of hair loss, but hormonal treatments (Tamoxifen and the three aromatase inhibitors) used to treat ER positive breast cancers may also result in thinning hair. This has been debated as women generally have thinner hair after menopause, but the view seems now to acknowledge this potential side effect. It does not affect everyone, and it does not result in total baldness, but it can still be very discouraging and depressing.

Called EIA, the condition is often localized at the font of the hairline. Think of male pattern baldness, and you have the general picture. At a recent conference, a study was presented indicating that  Minoxidl, a foam, applied daily, has been helpful for many women dealing with this problem. It is available as a generic drug and an be purchased over the counter and on Amazon. You have to keep using it indefinitely to sustain healthy hair and regrowth.

Additional, non-medical recommendations include things like layered hair cuts, shampoos and conditioners and hair products to encourage volume, and trying to wash you hair a little less frequently.

Has this been a problem for you? Did anything help? Share your story in the BIDMC Cancer Community.