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Cancer & Hair Loss: Symptoms, Prevention
Article Number: 45 | Rating: Unrated | Last Updated: Sat, Jul 2, 2011 at 9:36 AM
Through spreading awareness, in helping others who still suffer from Trichotillomania, and may still believe they are the "only one".
"There are studies that show that for many women, losing their hair is worse than losing a breast. That's because you can conceal the loss of a breast, but hair loss is so obvious and apparent."
Marisa Weiss M.D., President and Founder, Breast Radiation Oncologist, Philadelphia, PA
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide and affects one in eight women during their lives, but thanks to improvements in treatment and early detection, millions of women are surviving breast cancer today. For many people, hair loss is a distressing aspect of cancer treatment. Losing our hair can change our sense of identify – that is, how we see ourselves and how we relate to others which, in turn, can affect our quality of life.
What is Cancer?
Cancer is a group of diseases in which abnormal body cells in one part of the body start to grow out of control.
Normal body cells grow, divide, and die in an orderly fashion. Cancer cells grow and divide without stopping. As a result, they live longer than normal cells and they keep forming new abnormal cells.
These cancer cells may join together to create a lump, mass, or tumor. Some cancers, such as leukemia, start in the blood and blood-forming organs and do not form tumors. Instead, these cancer cells circulate through other tissues where they grow.
Eventually, this uncontrolled growth damages normal cells and interferes with normal body functions. Treatments for cancer focus on stopping this growth by killing cancer cells while causing as little damage as possible to surrounding normal cells.
The Different Types of Cancer
Cancers are categorized according to their primary site, (the part of the body where the cancer started), and by the type of tissue in which the cancer began. They are then classified in stages I, II, III, or IV, with stage I being early stage and IV being advanced. The stage impacts treatment and the prognosis for recovery.
There are four major types:
Who Is At Risk?
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. Breast cancer is hormone related, and the factors that modify the risk of breast cancer when diagnosed pre-menopause and when diagnosed post-menopause are not the same. Half of all men and one-third of all women in the United States will develop cancer at some point during their lifetime. The American Cancer Society predicts that 1,529,560 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2010. Cancer does not discriminate. Although the risk of cancer increases as we get older, people of any age and racial or ethnic background can and do get cancer.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Symptoms of breast cancer may include:
Men get breast cancer, too. Symptoms include breast lump, breast pain and tenderness.
Symptoms of advanced breast cancer may include:
Cancer is treated by an Oncologist. Oncologists are physician specialists who study, diagnose, and treat cancerous tumors.
Typical Cancer Treatments may include:
How, When, & Why Hair Loss Occurs
No matter how prepared and well informed, facing chemo hair loss can be difficult and embarrassing - adding to a very difficult life challenge. Marisa Weiss M.D., President and Founder, Breast Radiation Oncologist, Philadelphia, PA shares; "There are studies that show that for many women, losing their hair is worse than losing a breast. That's because you can conceal the loss of a breast, but hair loss is so obvious and apparent."
Hair loss occurs during the use of radiation, chemotherapy, and hormonal treatments used to treat cancer.
Hormonal treatments usually cause thinning.
Radiation sometimes causes permanent hair loss, but only the hair that is in the area of radiation will be affected.
With chemotherapy treatments, hair loss occurs because chemotherapy targets all rapidly dividing cells—healthy cells as well as cancer cells.
Normal hair follicles divide every 23 to 72 hours, but as the chemo works against cancer cells, it also destroys hair cells. Within seven to twenty one days of starting chemo, hair loss may start to occur. The extent of hair loss depends on which drugs or other treatments are used, and for how long. Also, the timing and dosage amounts of treatments will determine whether hair loss will be gradual or dramatic.
The various classes of chemotherapy drugs all produce different reactions. Some chemotherapy drugs affect only the scalp hair. Others cause the loss of all body hair. While some of the newer, more targeted chemotherapy drugs will not affect hair, the majority do cause hair loss.
Unfortunately, nothing can prevent it. It's an unfortunate side effect of chemotherapy that just about everyone undergoing chemo goes through. Hair may gradually thin before completely lost, or may be lost all at once.
To prepare emotionally for the change, most patients have their hair cut or shaved before they start chemotherapy. Until their hair grows back, some people choose to wear a wig or hairpiece, which insurance usually covers. Women sometimes wear scarves and others prefer the natural look, as an expression of their battle with cancer. Thankfully, hair loss is temporary. After chemotherapy, hair does grow back, often within a few weeks of completing treatment.
It is also advised to seek emotional support by talking to others who have experienced hair loss, or to professionals with experience with the matter.
Hormonal treatments usually cause thinning.
Growing Hair Back After Treatment
For hair growth after chemo, stimulation of the hair follicles, accelerating blood flow and nutrients is essential to hair growth and restoring healthy hair. Hair care products formulated to restore natural hair re-growth can help combat the effects of chemo and restore natural, healthy hair."
As hair begins to grow back after chemotherapy, it will initially have a different texture. New hair might feel finer and have a thin texture. Curly hair can grow back straight or straight hair may be curlier than before, and dark hair can grow back lighter, even gray. This is because the pigment cells have yet to revert back to normal. These changes are usually not permanent and within six months to twelve months, the hair will have returned to its normal texture, thickness and color. To ensure proper care of fragile, newly grown tresses, gently follow the guidelines outlined below.
Prevention ~ Reducing the Risk of Breast Cancer
Risk factors such as genes and family history cannot be controlled. However, a healthy diet and a few lifestyle changes may reduce your overall chance of cancer.
Examples of healthy lifestyle changes are ~
Combining risk-reducing habits with limiting exposure to substances that promote the disease will be even more beneficial.
The following are additional things to consider to minimize the risk factor ~
Exposure to Pesticides
The molecular structure of some pesticides closely resembles that of estrogen. This means they may attach to estrogen receptor sites in the body. Although studies haven't found a definite link between most pesticides and breast cancer, researchers have learned that women with elevated levels of pesticides in their breast tissue have a greater breast cancer risk.
Scientists recently found a link between antibiotic use and breast cancer — the longer antibiotics were used, the greater the risk of breast cancer. Researchers caution, however, that other factors, such as underlying illness or a weakened immune system, rather than antibiotics themselves, may account for the elevated cancer risk.
In addition to lifestyle changes, be vigilant about early detection of breast cancer. Breast cancer is more easily treated and often curable if it is found early.
Early detection involves ~
Certain women at high risk for breast cancer may have a breast MRI along with their yearly mammogram. Additionally, the drug Tamoxifen is approved for breast cancer prevention in women aged 35 and older who are at high risk. Reading and researching will help in having an informed discussion with a doctor. Depending on family history and other risk factors, the physician will determine the appropriate screening procedure to detect breast cancer.
Women at very high risk for breast cancer may consider preventive (prophylactic) mastectomy, which is the surgical removal of the breasts. Possible candidates for this procedure may include those who have already had one breast removed due to cancer, women with a strong family history of breast cancer, and persons with genes or genetic mutations that raise their risk of breast cancer.
When to consult a doctor ~
Nothing can guarantee that life will be cancer-free. But practicing healthy habits and consulting a doctor about practical extra measures to take may at least reduce the risk of this potentially fatal disease. Stay informed. Spread awareness and routinely screen!
Article written by Felicia Wills
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