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Everything You Need to Know About Alopecia

Everything You Need to Know About Alopecia

Everything You Need to Know About Alopecia

Alopecia is the medical term to describe the loss of hair from the head and/or body. For reasons which will be explained below, it is a natural consequence of chemotherapy. Other causes include the autoimmune condition, alopecia areata, systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE) and certain nutrient deficiencies, such as iron.

In order to fully understand alopecia, it helps to understand the process of normal hair growth. Hair emerges from the skin through follicles, each one of which produces many hairs throughout the course of its existence, during which each follicle goes through a three-phase cycle over and over again. These cycles are:

  • Anagen - This is when the hair is actively growing and lasts for anywhere between two and six years.
  • Catagen - This is a transitional phase and lasts for two or three weeks.
  • Telogen - This is a resting phase, which lasts for two to three months. At the end of the telogen phase, the hair is shed from the follicle and the cycle begins again with a new anagen phase.

Chemotherapy acts by killing populations of rapidly dividing cells, including, unfortunately, the follicles. These drugs kill only actively dividing cells but cannot distinguish between cancer cells and normal cell division. The good news is that it is temporary and reversible when drug therapy is discontinued.

Perhaps more than other side effects of chemo (nausea, fatigue, etc.) the prospect of losing your hair can be terrifying, especially if you are a woman. So much of our sense of personal identity is invested in our hairstyle, the length, the color, whether it's straight or curly. It's like the disease is a personal attack on who we think we are.

But alopecia can be thought of as a positive thing, too. It's a tangible sign that your are actively fighting the disease and that you can come out of it in one piece to enjoy the rest of your life. And, hey, it's an opportunity to experiment with new looks. Think about it. You can see what it is like to have long hair without waiting for it to grow out. You can go back to having short hair without the emotional wrench of parting with your flowing locks.

Some people are fortunate to have the bone structure to be able to pull off the hairless look. Think Sinead O'Connor, think about making the look work for you by experimenting with dramatic new make-up, think about surviving!

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