“I arrived at hair restoration with my breast cancer patients through their cancer journey. The joy that I see on my patients’ faces when their hair finally grows thicker, is the same joy that I see after they look at their reconstructed chests. This sense of professional fulfillment for me, is the ultimate reward!”
Hair loss can be a traumatizing experience, especially when it is caused by illness such as cancer. Dr.Toni Zhong MD, FRCS(C) has over a decade of experience in providing breast reconstruction for breast cancer patients, survivors, and previvors. She is the inaugural Belinda Stronach Chair in Breast Cancer Reconstruction at University Health Network (UHN), and the Director of the Breast Reconstruction Program at UHN and Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, two of the largest breast cancer centres in Canada. From her work with many of these women who have suffered hair loss due to chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and surgical hormonal suppression, Dr. Zhong has found that restoring their hair growth can tremendously improve quality of life and self-confidence of her patients.
Here Dr.Zhong answers some of the most asked questions her breast cancer patients encounter.
1) What are some of the specific challenges cancer survivors face when it comes to their hair?
Hair follicles are extremely fragile and hair loss can result from many aspects of cancer treatment. Chemotherapy almost always results in hair thinning and even complete hair loss. Many breast cancer patients have to undergo anti-estrogen hormonal therapy or endocrine therapy that can both cause the side-effect of hair thinning. Furthermore, some breast cancer survivors or previvors have to undergo hormone suppression surgery which also results in hair loss.
2) How effective is PRP for patients who have battled cancer?
PRP is generally very effective in cancer patients who have completed all their treatment and are in remission. PRP is contraindicated in patients with active cancer and undergoing active cancer treatment. However, once recovered, PRP can be a safe and powerful regenerative tool to help the hair follicles recover from the trauma of previous medications and surgeries.
3) Can PRP help my eyebrows?
Hair follicles for eyebrows are sensitive to the same stresses as hair follicles on your scalp. Once we have ruled out possible systemic causes of eyebrow hair loss that can be reversed, PRP is a possible treatment for eyebrow hair restoration. PRP can be introduced to hair follicles through either direct injection or careful microneedling depending on the surface area that needs treatment.
4) How soon can PRP for Hair Restoration be done for cancer survivors after chemotherapy?
I recommend giving your hair follicles their own chance of recovery after chemotherapy for a minimum of 6-12 months. In many patients, during the first year post-chemotherapy, they will find that their hair growth will spontaneously resume, and sometimes even to the same volume as they had prior to chemotherapy. However, in those patients who do not regain hair growth to the degree that they are satisfied with at 6-12 months, they can have a consultation with myself or another hair restoration specialist to discuss the possible treatments.
5) Can PRP also benefit the skin for cancer survivors?
Many of my breast cancer survivors and previvors will have PRP skin restoration at the same time as hair restoration. Just like the adverse effects that menopause has on aging skin, such as decreased collagen, reduced elasticity and overall dryness, anti-hormone therapy and surgery also result in prematurely aged and thinned skin with fine lines. PRP, when microneedled into the dermis of your skin, can result in increased production of collagen and elastin that lead to improved skin texture. In addition, the powerful platelet-derived growth factors released from PRP can also help create skin that appears healthier and more vibrant.