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It's been a while since I've blogged, and in that time, a lot has changed in my life both professionally and personally. I've taken on the position of Chief of Breast Surgery & Director of The Comprehensive Breast Center at Staten Island University Hospital. And even more exciting, my husband and I are expecting our first child in November. I'm thrilled about both of these new additions to my life, but as you can imagine, they've been keeping me quite busy.
Despite my slight disappearing act as a blogger, I'm happy to see many viewers have been writing to me at DrCoomer@foxnews.com with questions and comments. Thank you for that. In this and future blog posts, I'm going to answer some of these questions. Let's start with this one about hair loss and breast cancer.
Dear Dr. Coomer, I am a 58-year-old post-menopausal woman. My period stopped when I was 44. Female pattern hair loss runs in my family, and I began to experience it a few years ago. It was diagnosed by biopsies taken by my dermatologist. But another one of my doctors mentioned something about a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. Do you have any information you could share with me on this?
Hair Loss & Breast Cancer
First, you can rest assured that this condition does not put you at increased risk for breast cancer. Simply put, breast cancer is related to estrogen, and women lose their hair because of changes in testosterone. So we're talking about apples and oranges here. Risk factors for breast cancer include genetics, family history, (yes, they are different!) early onset period, going through menopause later in life (over age 50,) having your first child after the age of 30, use of hormone replacement therapy, diet and environment.
Female pattern baldness is also known as alopecia. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 40 percent of women will have visible hair loss by the time they reach 40. This condition is much different than male pattern baldness. In women, the hair thins out all over the head but the front hairline remains intact. Women can also lose hair near the crown. Very rarely will women lose all of their hair, as is sometimes the case with men. In women, this condition can be caused by genetics, aging and changes in hormone levels. Your hair is constantly growing and resting. A hair grows about half an inch per month from a follicle and grows for 2 to 6 years, then rests and falls out. Usually new hair grows in its place. Changes in androgens can disturb this process. Menopause is usually the time when women find that the hair on their head has thinned and facial hair is coarser.
When you lose your hair, it's permanent. Luckily, there are treatments that can help slow down the process and even stop it in some cases. Doctors are reluctant to prescribe some treatments because they can tamper with your body's androgen levels.
Minoxidil: This medicine was first used to treat high blood pressure, but as a side effect, patients started growing excessive hair. Doctors figured out that if you apply this product directly to the scalp, it will make your hair grow. This is an FDA-approved treatment that has undergone several studies.
Estrogen and Progesterone: Available in pills and creams, this might be effective for women who are going through menopause. If you choose to be treated with hormone replacement therapy, I suggest you proceed with caution. Using this therapy increases your risk of developing breast cancer, so as a doctor, it's not my treatment of choice.
Oral Contraceptives: Birth control pills lower the production of ovarian androgens and so they can be used to treat alopecia. Only low-androgen index birth control should be used as a therapy. If you take high amounts of androgen, it could actually trigger hair loss. The results from this treatment haven't been overwhelmingly positive, so I suggest speaking with your gynecologist or breast specialist to find out if this a• or any hormone replacement therapy a• is safe for you.
Dr. Cynara Coomer is the Chief of Breast Surgery & Director of The Comprehensive Breast Center at Staten Island University Hospital. She is also an assistant clinical professor of surgery specializing in breast health and breast cancer surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. She is a FOX News Health contributor providing medical expertise on a variety of topics in cancer research with a focus on women's health, breast diseases and tips for healthy breasts at any age. If you have a question email her at DrCoomer@foxnews.com