Chemotherapy and Hair Loss

A study presented during this year’s European Congress of Medical Oncology in Madrid, Spain, that was performed upon women with breast and ovarian cancer, showed that there is a decline in relation to the perception of chemotherapy-related side effect concerns, since the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Among the side effects of chemotherapy, hair loss is one of the most unsettling of all time. For both the patients and their family members, it is an important source of anxiety. Side effects such as nausea and vomiting that seriously physically affect the patient, no longer are on the agenda of patients and their relatives, as they were seen to be in the 1980’s and 1990's. Specialist Physician and Principal Investigator Beyhan Ataseven, who works at the Germany EssenMitte Clinic, Gynecology and Gynecological Cancers Department, provided information in relation to the studies performed since the 1980’s to date, upon chemotherapy-related side effects, and their effects on patients.

“When we came to the year 2002, we thought that the time had come to collect new data via a new analysis, and update the interview format. There have been changes in living conditions and alongside the chemotherapy, new support treatments have been introduced in management of the side effects. As doctors, it was important to know what our patients cared about”.

Dr. Ataseven and her team performed 3 separate interviews focused on breast (N=95) and ovarian (N=46) cancer patients, before, during, and after their newly planned chemotherapy sessions, and by analyzing the survey they performed in detail, they established that the results were different from previous surveys on the same subjects. 141 patients scheduled to undergo, or who were undergoing chemotherapy, were surveyed by being divided into 2 groups: those with physical and those with non-physical side effects. The patients selected the 5 most common side effects from each group and ranked them in order of importance.

Dr. Ataseven advised, “On the one hand, we found that side effects such as nausea and vomiting are no longer a major source of concern for patients. We can interpret this result as being an outcome of the effective modern supportive care in place for possible symptoms. On the other hand, at the beginning of the treatment we have seen that hair loss remains the most difficult and unsolvable problem for patients. We have then come to see that as time has passed, the patients have grown used to their hair falling out and instead, the other symptoms gain priority”.

“Throughout the entire chemotherapy process, it was observed that out of all the symptoms, the patients struggled with sleeping disorders the most, and as the process continued, it was observed that this situation increased. When it comes to anxiety, it was found that this was an important source of concern for the patients partner and family, and that this continued throughout the treatment”.

Dr. Ataseven stated that these findings could provide important information that could prove beneficial in improving the patients' quality of care.

“We need to look for the ways in which to improve our therapies. For example, prescribing sleeping pills can alleviate sleep disturbance. This was not part of our routine until now. Furthermore, our findings suggest that patients required psychological support in order to take their social anxieties and family related problems on board seriously.”

Dr. Ataseven went on to say, “Two different scalp cooling devices for hair loss have been approved by the FDA in the US, however this is unfortunately not a 'global solution'”.

Original Article: Patients’ Chemotherapy-Related Side-Effect Concerns Have Evolved, But Hair Loss Remains Significant, Phoebe Starr, The Oncology Pharmacist E-Journal.

Assist. Prof. Dr. Ahmet Sami Boşnak