• breast cancer;
  • caring;
  • chemotherapy-induced alopecia;
  • hair loss;
  • psychosocial programmes/interventions;
  • qualitative study

ZANNINI L., VERDERAME F., CUCCHIARA G., ZINNA B., ALBA A. & FERRARA M. (2012) European Journal of Cancer Care21, 650–660

‘My wig has been my journey's companion’: perceived effects of an aesthetic care programme for Italian women suffering from chemotherapy-induced alopecia

This study explored the perceived effects of an aesthetic care/wig programme for Italian women suffering from chemotherapy-induced alopecia. Despite advances in the treatment of many side effects of chemotherapy, alopecia remains difficult to resolve. Literature suggests that patients' reactions to alopecia and camouflaging strategies depend on their gender, individual characteristics, social context, and culture. A qualitative study was designed involving 20 patients from Sicily (Italy), who participated in an aesthetic care programme. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews, and an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was conducted on transcriptions. Our findings showed that, even if expected, alopecia is experienced as a traumatic event that challenges a woman's femininity, as reported by many other enquiries. Diverging from other studies, the wig is perceived as very helpful, since it camouflages baldness and reduces the ‘sick aspect’ related to alopecia. Patients consider their wig to be a ‘friend’, and it appears that through the aesthetic care programme they received support they otherwise would not have sought. We conclude that aesthetic care/wig programmes can help women affected by alopecia to cope with cancer ‘stigma’, especially in those rural contexts where psychosocial programmes are not frequently embraced by patients due to environmental and cultural barriers.