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Study Explores Permanent Hair Loss After Bone Marrow Transplants


Chemotherapy drugs often lead to hair loss – it’s a distressing but well-known side effect of cancer treatment. But in rare cases, the resulting baldness is permanent.

To better understand why some people’s hair doesn’t grow back post-chemotherapy, researchers in Brazil considered the cases of seven cancer patients, with a specific eye on those who had been through bone marrow transplantation. Writing about their findings for the Brazilian Society of Dermatology, the researchers state that “more and more cases” of permanent hair loss have been described after bone marrow transplantation, and that a drug named busulfan is often mentioned.

They wanted to ascertain what kind of hair loss was taking place, and also to try and understand if it was chemotherapy drugs – as opposed to a reaction to the bone marrow transplantation – that was causing it.

Chemotherapy Hair LossData from seven patients

They collected data from the medical records of seven patients and reviewed the slides and paraffin blocks of biopsies that were taken from their scalp. All of the seven had used busulfan.

The researchers found that two different types of hair loss were evident: five of the patients had thinning that bore similarities to Androgenetic Alopecia – also known as Male Pattern Baldness or Female Pattern Hair Loss. The other two’s pattern of shedding had more in common with a Scarring Alopecia condition known as Lichen Planopilaris.

The pattern of hairloss in the former five, say the researchers, “corroborates the literature cases of permanent alopecia induced by chemotherapeutic agents.” The other two, they say, is compatible with the “manifestation of chronic graft-versus-host disease on scalp.” This, they say, has never yet been described.

The researchers state that while many reports of permanent post-chemotherapy hair loss involve bone marrow transplantsation and high-doses of the drugs that form part of the treatment, more recent reports have shown cases of permanent alopecia with lower doses of chemotherapeutic agents – and also related to other chemotherapy regimens: in the treatment for certain types of breast cancer, for example.

Unfortunate side-effect

While hair loss is sometimes accepted as an unfortunate side-effect of chemotherapy, most people undergo treatment in the belief that their hair is likely to grow back. Regrowth typically takes 6-12 months, and in some cases it can be helped along with a custom hair loss treatment course.

By a greater understanding of which cancers and drugs are more likely to lead to permanent post-chemotherapy hair loss, patients can be better informed. Additionally, in the long term, it may be possible that drugs could be modified to reduce their chances of causing permanent hair loss.

Belgravia CentreThe Belgravia Centre

The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.

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