Alopecia is a general term used for hair loss, this can be a small bald patch on the head or loss of hair over the entire body, it can affect men, women and children. The onset can often be sudden, random and frequently recurrent. Although not life threatening, it can be life changing through its impact on confidence and esteem.
Alopecia affects approximately 1.7% of the population and approximately 25% of people affected have a family history of the condition.
The cause isnt known, although it is generally agreed that it is a disease of the immune system. There is believed to be a genetic link in some cases and possibly stess related.
Alopecia is your immune system attacking the hair follicles causing the hair to stop growing and ultimately causes the hair to shed.
Pattern Baldness (Androgenetic Alopecia)
This is the most common cause of hair loss and can affect up to 70% of men and 40% women at some point in their lifetime. Men typically recede at the hairline, temples and vertex, and women generally thin on the top of the head. Both Male and Female pattern baldness rarely progresses to total baldness.
For a few men this process can start as early as their teens but by the age of 60 most men have suffered from some degree of hair loss. Some men aren’t troubled by this at all. Others, however, suffer great emotional distress associated with a lack of self-esteem and, in some cases, depression, particularly if this occurs early in life.
Pattern baldness is usually inherited and is caused by over-sensitive hair follicles. Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is produced by the male hormone testosterone, and it causes the follicles to shrink and eventually stop functioning. If you have inherited the genes responsible for pattern baldness there is very little you can do to stop this process. There are treatments available which claim to help this condition, but there is very little evidence to support this.
Hair loss is one of the most well known side effects of chemotherapy. The drugs can cause thinning, partial or complete hair loss. Some chemotherapy drugs are more likely to cause hair loss than others, and can depend on a number of factors:
- the type and combination of drugs you are taking
- the dose
- your sensitivity to the drug
- previous drug treatment history
If your hair is going to fall out, it usually happens within 2-3 weeks of your first treatment and it is usually a gradual rather than sudden hair loss. In most cases your hair will grow back once the treatment has finished. In very rare cases, where high doses of some drugs have been used, it may not grow back. You are advised to speak to your specialist nurse about this.
Usually within 4-6 months after your last chemotherapy treatment, you will have a full covering of hair, although this may be softer in texture than before. It may grow back a different colour and texture, but will usually grow at the same rate as it did before your treatment. It is advisable not to have any hair colour/perm applied during, or within 6 months following your last treatment.
It is always best to start the process of buying a wig as early as possible, if you have been advised that hair loss may occur. This way we can easily match up your hair colour and style. However, some people may decide to choose a completely different style and colour so that they can have the hair they have always wanted. The choice is always yours. Once total hair loss has occurred the wig can be fitted properly and I always recommend that if you buy your wig before this has happened, you return to your wig supplier to ask for it to be altered to be a perfect fit. Wigs do not feel comfortable, or give you confidence, if they do not fit properly.
Some people will choose to cut their hair short before the hair loss occurs, so that the distress of seeing their hair fall out is minimised. This is always your choice, but my advise is that if you choose the shave your hair, do not take it too short. I usually advise no lower than a grade 2. Your head may feel tender/sensitive when the hair loss starts and going too short can exaggerate this feeling. Maybe wear a hairnet at night, so that you you not wake up with hair on your pillow.
Useful websites to visit for information and support
Alopecia Uk is supported by the British Association of Dermatologists and is the larged charity in the UK providing support to people who experience Alopecia. Also from Alopecia Uk is the Headzup website for young people with Alopecia.
BeBold are based in the North West and offer a support network to their members. They help to build confidence and self esteem to children and adults who suffer from Alopecia.
Little Princess Trust is a charity to provide real hair wigs to children suffering from hair loss.
Macmillan Cancer support offer information, advice and support for anyone who suffers hair loss from cancer treatment. Cancer research UK also have information for anyone who suffers hair loss or thinning caused by cancer drugs and how to cope with it.
New for 2013 is the Alopecia support group in Leeds, West Yorkshire, which is open to men and women. The group plans to meet every couple of months.
The Aurora Centre at Doncaster Royal Infirmary is a wellbeing centre which offers beauty treatments and support to local patients living with cancer from the Doncaster area. They also host the Headstrong service and have a Breast Cancer care advisory service within the centre.