Arimidex is the most common hormone therapy drug taken by post-menopausal breast cancer survivors. We’re warned about sore and aching bones and joints, the danger of osteoporosis… but no one ever seems to mention the drug’s affect on your hair, and for many of us, it’s the most irritating side effect of all.
When you go through breast cancer treatment, you quickly learn the meaning of those two simple words. And you find out that each treatment you undergo has its very own list of side effects.
For chemotherapy, which has the most prolific array of accompanying side effects (and after effects, and lasting effects), challenges can range from commonplace (nausea, hair loss); to possible (“Taxol toes,” the annoying and sometimes debilitating tingling accompanying taxane drugs); to rare (new cancers, cardiac events, death).
For radiation, side effects are fewer, and generally less serious; although painful burns and extreme fatigue are tough to deal with, they’re not fatal.
Long-term hormone therapy drugs, given to women whose cancer is hormone-receptive (ER/PR+), carry side effects that, like those from radiation, are almost never fatal. The weight gain, menopausal symptoms, and possible endometrial cancer from tamoxifen are well-known.
And aromatase inhibitors (AIs: Aromasin, Arimidex, Femara) can cause joint and bone pain so severe that women stop taking them, more willing to risk a cancer recurrence than endure daily debilitating pain.
However, one little-known side effect of hormone therapy is seldom mentioned by doctors. It’s not particularly dangerous; nor is it painful, at least in the physical sense.
But for many women, it’s just as emotionally devastating as the loss of a breast.
I’m talking hair loss, the side effect of hormone therapy no one ever mentions – until it happens to you.
Before I started cancer treatment, my hair was thick and heavy. I’d occasionally grow it long, and washing and air-drying it would be a half-day affair.
Chemo robbed me of that thick, lustrous hair; but given the alternative, I didn’t mind. I figured, heck, it’ll grow back.
And it did. Slowly, a different color; curly instead of straight, but fairly thick. Great, I thought; chemo may have erased my mental blackboard, but at least I’ll have my hair back.
Then I started on tamoxifen. And after 3 years, as good results from the new aromatase inhitors continued to accumulate, I switched to Arimidex, which I took for 5 more years.
A year ago, I finished my course of Arimidex. Now, I’m on nothing more potent than a daily multivitamin and weekday 81mg aspirin, which is supposed to help prevent recurrence.
But as a result of those 8 years of hormone therapy, my once thick, glossy hair has been reduced to a thin straggle. Where once it took hours to dry my long hair, now that same length hair is easily blown dry in about 90 seconds.
Crowning glory? Forget about it.