Permanent hair loss associated with taxane chemotherapy use in breast cancer: A retrospective survey at two tertiary UK cancer centres

Eur J Cancer Care (Engl). 2021 May;30(3):e13395. doi: 10.1111/ecc.13395. Epub 2020 Dec 22.


Purpose: Taxane chemotherapy is commonly used in the management of breast cancer. Hair loss (alopecia) is an expected side effect which may have a significant effect on quality of life. Alopecia is normally temporary but permanent chemotherapy-induced alopecia (pCIA) is increasingly recognised especially following docetaxel chemotherapy. However, the prevalence following docetaxel is not well understood and there is no published literature for paclitaxel chemotherapy. The aim of this study is to investigate the prevalence and patterns of pCIA resulting from both docetaxel and paclitaxel chemotherapy at two tertiary UK cancer centres.

Methods: In collaboration between Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and The Christie NHS Foundation Trusts, a retrospective survey was conducted for breast cancer patients who had received taxane chemotherapy in the neoadjuvant and adjuvant settings. Patients who had concluded chemotherapy at least a year previously were contacted by post and invited to participate by completing a questionnaire and returning it to their treatment centre. Data collected included the incidence and pattern of pCIA using the Savin pictorial hair loss scale, and the methods used by patients to manage it. Fisher's exact test was used to compare pCIA between the docetaxel and paclitaxel cohorts.

Results: 383 patients responded to the survey (a 63.3% overall response rate). These comprised 245 patients receiving docetaxel and 138 patients treated with paclitaxel. pCIA was reported by 23.3% of patients receiving docetaxel and 10.1% paclitaxel (p < 0.01). Overall 16.7% of patients in both groups reported the ongoing use of products or appliances such as wigs to camouflage their pCIA. In the docetaxel group, pCIA appeared to be more frequent in post-menopausal women than peri- or pre-menopausal women (37.8%, 12.3% and 19.6% respectively [Chi-square test p < 0.01]). Also in the docetaxel group, there appeared to be a trend for more severe scalp alopecia when the patient also received an aromatase inhibitor (AI) or tamoxifen and this difference was most marked in those who had received both an AI and tamoxifen as components of their treatment regime (p = 0.04). The use of scalp cooling was only recorded in the Christie paclitaxel group (n = 12). Of these 12 patients, 83.3% reported no hair loss. While overall rates of permanent eyebrow, eyelash and nostril hair loss were low, this pattern of hair loss appeared more frequent in the paclitaxel than the docetaxel group 4.3% vs. 1.8% (p = 0.29).

Conclusions: Both docetaxel and paclitaxel may cause permanent scalp hair loss, but it is significantly more prevalent with docetaxel compared with paclitaxel.

Implications for cancer survivors: Clinicians should counsel patients regarding the risk of permanent alopecia prior to embarking upon taxane chemotherapy and routinely offer scalp cooling if available. More research is required to understand the pathobiology of this important and previously under recognised long-term side effect to enable more active preventive and management approaches.

Keywords: alopecia; breast cancer; docetaxel; hair loss; paclitaxel; taxane.

MeSH terms

  • Alopecia* / chemically induced
  • Alopecia* / epidemiology
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols
  • Breast Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Taxoids* / adverse effects
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology


  • Taxoids