Breast Cancer and Hair Loss:
Experiential Similarities and Differences in Men's and Women's Narratives
Trusson, Diane PhD; Quincey, Kerry PhD
Our article, entitled "Breast Cancer and Hair Loss: Experiential Similarities and Differences in Men and Women's Narratives" was borne out of a conversation I had with Kerry after watching her present her research on men's breast cancer experiences, during which she discussed how men and their experiences are often unfairly side-lined and overshadowed by breast cancer in women. When I told Kerry about my research on cancer treatment-related hair loss, we realised that this was another facet of men's experiences which tends to be neglected; both in the academic literature, and in terms of the support made available to men who undergo treatment for breast cancer. Subsequent to having had my article on women's hair loss experiences published with Cancer Nursing in 2017, I witnessed the public interest in the topic of cancer treatment-induced hair loss; this included being interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 programme Thinking Allowed, which is broadcast worldwide.
We wanted men's experiences to be similarly publicised, and in particular, to challenge assumptions that men are less affected by losing their hair due to cancer-related treatments, and also to ensure that men, like women, are supported to deal with this significant side issue. Kerry had used an interesting methodology where her participants provided photographs to express their experiences in addition to interviews. One participant, Tom, had charted his change of appearance when he lost his hair, and his photographs provided a stark contrast between his pre- and post-cancer treatment appearance. The photographs (some of which we have used in the article) convey his experiences of the impact of hair loss on his self-identity in a particularly powerful way, and serve to illustrate the importance placed on this side-effect of the primary issue that is breast cancer.
A comparison of the data from our respective studies revealed commonalities between men's and women's hair loss experiences, and also interesting contrasts, such as men's use of humour to mask their distress or embarrassment at losing their hair. It also showed how women are better able, and better supported to, including having the option of a using a wig to disguise their hair loss, while men were forced to reveal their baldness. We feel that it is important that men and women are equally supported to deal with hair loss resulting from cancer treatment. We also agree with the male participants that information and advice should be offered to men through the same channels as they are for women, rather than having separate resources that needlessly distinguish between the sexes.
Most importantly, we wanted to show that hair loss should not be considered as a gendered experience, and that all cancer patients should be supported to deal with this side effect of their treatment, regardless of their gender identity.
BBC Radio 4 Thinking Allowed. 'The Secret World of Hair.' Broadcast 13th July, 2017 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p058k2q7
Quincey, Kerry (2018). Stop marginalising men with breast cancer. The Conversation. Published online on October 19th 2018. https://theconversation.com/stop-marginalising-men-with-breast-cancer-104873
Trusson, Diane and Pilnick, Alison. The role of hair loss in cancer identity: Perceptions of chemotherapy-induced alopecia among women treated for early-stage breast cancer or ductal carcinoma in situ. Cancer Nursing, 2017:40(2):E9-E16.
-- Corresponding author Diane Trusson on her paper "Breast Cancer and Hair Loss: Experiential Similarities and Differences in Men and Women's Narratives," currently published online ahead-of-print in CANCER NURSING. For a limited time, the full article may be viewed below without a subscription.