Hair loss in women with breast cancer can have major implications on their sense of identity

 hair loss445
18 Apr 2016 15:15:17.023

PA 85/16

A new study from The University of Nottingham highlights the importance of hair loss to women with breast cancer.

Dr Diane Trusson from the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University interviewed 24 women about their experiences of being treated for early breast cancer and found that hair was a prominent topic, even for those who did not lose their hair.

“Women who had chemotherapy as part of their treatment often described hair loss as even more traumatic than losing their breast(s),” said Dr Trusson.

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Sense of identity

The study, ‘The Role of Hair Loss in Cancer’, which has been published online in journal  Cancer Nursing, found that loss of hair, not only from the head, but also body hair and eyebrows, affected their sense of identity and the way that they were viewed by other people. For example, one woman said that she was mistaken for a man.

Dr Trusson said: “Appearing in public with a bald head was an immediate indicator that they had cancer, consequently they had to decide if and how to disguise their hair loss to control information about their health. Often they wore a wig in order to protect other people such as their children, or in the case of a teacher, to protect her pupils from seeing her hair loss.”

An unexpected finding during the research was that some of the women who did not have chemotherapy and therefore did not lose their hair, also reported some distressing experiences. They often described feeling guilty that they had not suffered to the same extent as other women even if they had lost their breast(s) and sometimes wondered if people did not believe that they had cancer because they had kept their hair. 

A visible sign of cancer treatment

“In one case a woman described how she was bullied when she returned to work after having a mastectomy because she was unable to lift and carry as part of her duties,” said Dr Trusson. “She wondered if people may have treated her more sympathetically if she had lost her hair because, unlike breast surgery, hair loss would have been a visible sign of her cancer treatment.”

The study argues that visibility of cancer treatment is key to the way that people relate to others, whether this is in a positive or negative way.

Dr Trusson adds: “Patients should be provided with support and information from nurses and practitioners to prepare them for the impact on self-perception and social interactions when facing hair loss. Patients should also be warned about the possible implications of not conforming to the cancer stereotype. There also needs to be greater education among the wider population about the possible side effects of cancer treatments, which may prevent women feeling stigmatised while already undergoing a stressful experience.”

This year, The University of Nottingham has launched its Breast cancer research fundraising campaign.

The campaign, #BreastCancerAndMe, has a £1 million fundraising target and to help achieve this the University is asking as many people as possible to join in fundraising activity- holding bake sales, charity events, sponsored walks, and bike rides.

One of the flagship fundraising events is Life Cycle 6, a 1,400 sponsored bike ride led by the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir David Greenaway, and a team of 12 riders.

Members of the public can sponsor the team, follow their progress, and/or challenge themselves to take part in a Community Bike Ride in September.

All funds raised in the campaign will go directly into our laboratories to support world-leading breast cancer research at our centres in Nottingham and Derby. 

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and the winner of ‘Outstanding Support for Early Career Researchers’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2015. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK by research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for three years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…


Story credits

More information is available from Dr Diane Trusson in the School
of Sociology and Social Policy at The University of Nottingham

Charlotte Anscombe – Media Relations Manager (Arts and Social Sciences)

Email:  Phone:+44 (0)115 74 84 417 Location: University Park

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