Chemo and Hair Loss

Chemo and Hair Loss

As my London practice grew, I came across a variety of problems associated with the medical approach to cancer and the use of chemotherapy and radiations.  One of these was hair loss following chemotherapy.

This is a  major concern for many people facing chemotherapy and its toxic consequences.  This apparently worries peoples so much that as much as eight per cent of women have considered refusing chemotherapy for this reason alone. Scientist [14-10-17 p.15]

I’ve had many clients who have opted to purchase and wear wigs. Most enjoy this, but some of them find the wigs uncomfortable, especially on hot days. On the other hand, one client enjoyed her wig so much that she purchased a second one.  One blonde and one brown, but both the same shape. Another client varied them with different hair lengths. Yet others have said that they feel depressed when they are at home and see their bare scalp.  Others have opted for scarves or turbans.

There are many other aspects of chemotherapy toxicity which include:

  • Fatigue
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Infection
  • Anaemia (low red blood cell counts)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Appetite changes
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Mouth, tongue, and throat problems such as sores and pain with swallowing
  • Nerve and muscle problems such as numbness, tingling, and pain
  • Skin and nail changes such as dry skin and colour change
  • Urine and bladder changes and kidney problems
  • Weight changes
  • Chemo brain, which can affect concentration and focus, and can be difficult to reverse
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in libido and sexual function
  • Fertility problems

See also from the American Cancer Society.

Many, though not all of these symptoms relate to the effect of the toxins on the rapidly dividing cells, such as those of the gut lining, skin,  hair follicles, and, of course, any rapidly dividing cancer cells that are present.

A recent short article published in New Scientist on 14th October 2017, p.15 is of interest.

There are possibilities other than wigs.  One of these involves scalp-cooling caps that freeze the hair follicles and constrict local blood flow, to reduce the flow of the toxins to the hair follicles.  However, these are said to be expensive, work on only about 50% of people who try them, cause discomfort and headaches, and extend the chemotherapy treatment by two hours.

Help may be at hand, in the form of a compound called Wnt3a.  There is a helpful protein that reduces your risk of developing cancer when it is produced normally throughout the body. It is called p53 and is activated during some forms of chemotherapy – this reduces tumour growth.  However, P53 blocks the action of a hair promoting protein called Wnt3a.  Wnt signalling is crucial for development and homeostasis.  It governs sensory hair cell specification, hair cell orientation, and regulates the extent of proliferative hair cell regeneration. In a National Taiwan University study, experimenting on mice, it was found that by injecting Wnt-3a soaked beads under the surface of the skin in mice, they could prevent hair loss that could be caused by chemotherapy.  The Wnt protein treatment had doubled the number of stem cells at the base of the hair follicles within a day and had thus allowed more hairs to sprout [Cancer Research,].  They are now working on the development of a cream that might activate Wnt and could be spread over the scalp. Possibly something worth keeping in mind?

None the less, hair loss remains a depressing aspect of the toxicity of chemotherapy.

Most chemotherapy drugs act on the most rapidly dividing cells.  These include the cells lining the digestive tract and can lead to considerable distress. It also includes the cells of the hands and feet, where the peeling skin can lead to considerable pain, discomfort, and possible infection.  This can also be visually distressing.

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