Body image and patients experiencing alopecia as a result of cancer chemotherapy

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One side effect of chemotherapy used in the treatment of cancer is alopecia, or hair loss. Since hair contributes greatly to physical attractiveness and to body image, alopecia might be expected to be distressing to patients receiving chemotherapy, resulting in decreased social interactions. A Body Image/Social Activity questionnaire was administered to 77 cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. Subjects with alopecia were expected to have significantly lower scores than those without alopecia. Although the differences found were in the expected direction, they were not statistically significant. The negative effect of hair loss may have been minimized by the process of adaptation. For many subjects, physical characteristics became less important as measures of worth and living itself became more important. Positive health care experiences such as good preparation for hair loss, individual attention, and continuity of care may also have minimized the threat associated with alopecia and may account for the lack of significant differences between the two study groups.

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