Cancer and stigma: experience of patients with chemotherapy-induced alopecia

Patient Educ Couns. 2004 Mar;52(3):333-9. doi: 10.1016/S0738-3991(03)00040-5.


Chemotherapy-induced alopecia is one of the most distressing side-effects of chemotherapy. In this article we examine how patients react to hair loss due to chemotherapy; for women in particular, the reaction involves a confrontation with the lethal nature of cancer, whilst for men it is a normal and inevitable consequence of treatment. We then analyse the strategies used to cope with alopecia. One strategy involves camouflaging and hiding; the patients wear wigs in an attempt to partially or completely hide their hair loss. Another strategy is to treat it as commonplace: wearing a wig is played down and banalised. Sometimes this can take the form of provocation, in which case baldness is seen as the symbol of the cancer patient's new identity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Alopecia / chemically induced*
  • Alopecia / psychology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Attitude to Health
  • Body Image*
  • Cancer Care Facilities / statistics & numerical data
  • Communication
  • Female
  • France
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Qualitative Research
  • Self Concept*
  • Stereotyping
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control


  • Antineoplastic Agents