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Changes in self-concept and body image during alopecia induced cancer chemotherapy

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Alopecia as a result of cancer chemotherapy has been reported to cause changes to the self-concept and body image. In a prospective longitudinal study, self-concept and body image were analysed in 29 patients after histological confirmation of gynaecological malignancy, mainly ovarian cancer, who were assigned to receive a complete-alopecia-inducing PEC combination chemotherapy (cisplatin 50 mg/m2, epirubicin 60 mg/m2 and cyclophosphamide 500 mg/m2 in 1 day every 28 days). The analysis was performed before the commencement of treatment and repeated when alopoecia was complete and after completion of therapy when patients had already experienced regrowth of hair, using the Frankfurt self-concept scales (FSKN) and Frankfurt body concept scales (FKKS). Significant differences were observed in the various evaluation scales FSAP (general ability to solve problems), FSSW (general self-esteem), SGKB (state of health), and SKEF (physical fitness). For all scales the results worsened during chemotherapy but did not return to normal or improve when patients experienced regrowth of hair. It was found that 73.3% of the patients did not feel as self-confident as before treatment and that for 46.6% alopecia was the most traumatic side effect of chemotherapy. Since there is no chemotherapeutic regimen or any other effective treatment that can prevent alopecia, either of the following conclusions can be drawn: the observed differences may not be related exclusively to alopecia, but also associated with coping processes initiated by chemotherapy and perhaps enhanced by alopecia; or the changes persist even after the discontinuation of chemotherapy. Regrowth of hair and other adaptive processes do not normalize or improve the impaired body image and self-concept.

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Münstedt, K., Manthey, N., Sachsse, S. et al. Changes in self-concept and body image during alopecia induced cancer chemotherapy. Support Care Cancer 5, 139–143 (1997).

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