Can hair loss be a sign of cancer?

Can hair loss be a sign of cancer?

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  • Hair loss IS NOT a direct sign of cancer.
  • People associate cancer with hair loss because a common treatment for cancer — chemotherapy — often causes hair loss.
  • This means many people with cancer lose their hair after receiving chemotherapy.
  • As a result some people think hair loss is a sign you might have cancer. But it isn’t.
  • To be completely clear; if you’re losing your hair you shouldn’t be concerned that you have cancer.
  • Hair loss is very common and there are many possible causes.
  • The most common cause of hair loss is a hormone by-product of testosterone called DHT.
  • DHT is thought to be the most significant cause of hair loss, which is why men tend to lose their hair more often than women — because men tend to have much higher levels of DHT than women.
  • Prostate cancer feeds on testosterone.
  • One treatment for prostate cancer is a drug that reduces testosterone significantly.
  • If you’re male and you experience male pattern baldness at a young age you should get a prostate exam, especially if you have a family history of prostate cancer.

Cancer hair loss

Hair loss is not a sign of cancer. People associate hair loss with cancer because it’s one of the most well-known side effects of cancer treatment. Chemotherapy/radiotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that causes hair loss.

Chemotherapy can cause:

  • mild thinning of hair
  • partial hair loss, or loss of patches of hair
  • complete hair loss (alopecia)

What about rapid or sudden hair loss?

Even rapid or sudden hair loss is not a sign of cancer. A sudden increase in hair loss might be due to stress, which may accellerate hair loss by increasing cortisol hormone in the body. It’s also possible the hair loss is due to an auto immune disease or other undiagnosed underlying condition. If the hair loss is unexpected you should visit your doctor for a check-up.

Young male pattern baldness may be a sign that prostate cancer is likely later in life

In some cases early hair loss in men is associated with double the normal risk of developing prostate cancer as suggested in a study published in Annals of Oncology, 388 prostate cancer patients and 281 healthy men were questioned about their history of hair loss.

The researchers, led by Philippe Giraud of the Paris Descartes University, can’t say for sure why early-onset baldness and prostate cancer are linked, but they suspect male sex hormone testosterone may play a role in both conditions.

How Does Chemotherapy Causes Hair Loss?

While the main purpose of chemotherapy is to attack the malignant cancer cells in the body, it also adversely attacks all of the healthy and fast growing cells in the body, including hair follicles on the scalp and other parts of the body. This is why hair falls out during chemotherapy treatment. Killing the hair follicles not only causes hair to fall out much faster than usual for some, while for others, it falls out in large clumps.

The rate and intensity at which the hair follicles are attacked varies based upon the level of treatment and the dosage of the chemotherapy drug. Hair usually begins falling out two to four weeks after you start treatment.

scalp cooling was linked to the prevention of significant hair loss in about half the women using the devices

The good news is that hair loss due to cancer treatment is not permanent and, oftentimes, the hair grows back within three to six months after treatment ends; however, the texture, color, and thickness might be different at first. As the hair follicles slowly recover from the treatment and gain back their strength, the hair will eventually return to its former thickness.

Controlling hair loss during chemotherapy

Two studies by researchers from cancer centers across the US found that scalp cooling devices, ice packs or cooling caps can help reduce hair loss during chemotherapy. The studies looked at women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. In both studies, scalp cooling was linked to the prevention of significant hair loss in about half the women using the devices. Both studies were published February 14 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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The theory behind scalp hypothermia is that the cooling tightens up or constricts blood vessels in the scalp. This constriction is thought to reduce the amount of chemo that reaches the cells of the hair follicles. The cold also decreases the activity of the hair follicles and makes them less attractive to chemo, which targets rapidly dividing cells. This could reduce the effect of chemo on the follicle cells and, as a result, prevent or reduce hair loss from the scalp.