Breast Cancer and Hair Loss: Experiential Similarities and Differences in Men's and Women's Narratives

Cancer Nurs. 2021 Jan/Feb;44(1):62-70. doi: 10.1097/NCC.0000000000000745.


Background: There are relatively few studies comparing men's and women's breast cancer experiences. Furthermore, men's experiences of cancer treatment-induced alopecia have received scant academic attention compared with those of women.

Objective: To explore experiences of treatment-induced alopecia in both sexes and highlight ways in which they might be supported when undergoing breast cancer treatment.

Methods: Qualitative interviews and photographic data taken from 2 separate experiential inquiries were analyzed together, focusing on references made to treatment-induced alopecia in women's and men's breast cancer accounts.

Results: Hair loss was described as distressing by both sexes, affecting gendered identities and relationships. Men typically discussed loss of body hair, whereas women rarely referred to body hair explicitly, underlining gendered aspects of their experiences. Differences were also noted in coping strategies, with men using humor and asserting their masculinity. Women were better able to disguise hair loss, whereas men were forced to reveal their hairlessness.

Conclusions: The findings contribute a nuanced understanding of the experience of treatment-induced alopecia for both men and women, which will help to improve their care during cancer treatment.

Implications for practice: Healthcare professionals should provide information about the possible implications of cancer-related alopecia for identities and social relationships for both sexes. Highlighting marked gender differences in cancer-related hair loss, advice and support specific to men's needs would be particularly beneficial, enabling greater gender equality in clinical practice. Understanding the coping strategies employed by both sexes in relation to hair loss will help healthcare professionals to identify and address any underlying patient distress.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alopecia / chemically induced
  • Alopecia / psychology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Breast Neoplasms, Male / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms, Male / psychology*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Narration
  • Qualitative Research