Shannen Doherty Shaves Her Head in Prep for Chemotherapy

This week, Beverly Hills, 90210 actress Shannen Doherty, 45, took to Instagram with a series of pictures showing her in the process of cutting off and shaving her hair. Doherty is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, and decided to shave off her hair, rather than having it fall out as a result of her cancer therapy. In the series of pictures, Shannen is supported by her mother Rosa Elizabeth and friends Anne Marie Kortright and Chris Cortazzo.

Doherty was diagnosed in March 2015. She had actually felt a lump in her breast earlier than this, but she was unable to see her physician because she did not have health insurance. Legal documents surfaced in August 2015, which revealed that she was suing her former business management company alleging that they did not pay her 2014 Screen Actors Guild insurance premiums, causing the insurance to be cancelled. The firm, Tanner Mainstain, terminated its relationship with Doherty in February 2015, at which time she learned that the insurance was cancelled and she would be unable to re-enroll until March 2015.

SD No. 1

The lawsuit states that doctors discovered that she had “invasive breast cancer metastatic to at least one lymph node.” It goes on to say that she was told that her cancer had spread during 2014 and “had she been insured and able to visit her doctor, the cancer could potentially have been stopped, thus obviating the need for the future treatment (mastectomy and chemotherapy) that [she] will likely have to suffer through now.”

Doherty has decided to undergo surgery, although she may receive chemotherapy prior to surgery to shrink the tumor prior to its removal. Treatment given as a first step to shrink a tumor before the main treatment, which is usually surgery, is given is called neoadjuvant therapy.

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They’re just breasts,” she said to People magazine. “In the grand scheme of things, I would rather be alive and I would rather grow old with my husband.”

Following the picture postings, received many messages of support and hope from her social media followers. Former 90210 costar Jason Priestly told  Entertainment Tonight at the Raising The Bar to End Parkinson’s fundraiser benefiting the Michael J. Fox Foundation at Laurel Point in Los Angeles on Wednesday: “What she did the other day, shaving her head and posting the pictures and everything, that was incredibly brave.”

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Hair Loss

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy work by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, which grow and divide quickly. But they can also harm those healthy cells which divide quickly: cells in your skin, hair, nails, the lining of your digestive system, and your blood cells. Damage to healthy cells is what causes side effects. Most side effects get better or go away after chemotherapy is over. Hair loss, called alopecia, is a common short term side effects.

Although it may be most notable when the hair on your head falls out, hair loss from chemotherapy can occur all over the body, including the eyelashes and eyebrows.

Ways to Manage Hair Loss

Ways to manage hair loss include:

  • Treat your hair gently. You may want to use a hairbrush with soft bristles or a wide-tooth comb. Do not use hair dryers, irons, or products such as gels or clips that may hurt your scalp. Wash your hair with a mild shampoo. Wash it less often and be very gentle. Pat it dry with a soft towel.
  • Some people choose to cut their hair short to make it easier to deal with when it starts to fall out. Others choose to shave their head. If you choose to shave your head, use an electric shaver so you won’t cut yourself.
  • If you plan to buy a wig, get one while you still have hair so you can match it to the color of your hair. If you find wigs to be itchy and hot, try wearing a comfortable scarf or turban.
  • Protect and care for your scalp. Use sunscreen or wear a hat when you are outside. Choose a comfortable scarf or hat that you enjoy and that keeps your head warm. If your scalp itches or feels tender, using lotions and conditioners can help it feel better.
  • Many people feel angry, depressed, or embarrassed about hair loss. It can help to share these feelings with someone who understands. Some people find it helpful to talk with other people who have lost their hair during cancer treatment.

Ways to Care for Your Hair When It Grows Back

  •  Be gentle. When your hair starts to grow back, you will want to be gentle with it. Avoid too much brushing, curling, and blow-drying. You may not want to wash your hair as frequently.
  •  After chemotherapy. Hair often grows back in 2 to 3 months after treatment has ended. Your hair will be very fine when it starts to grow back. Sometimes your new hair can be curlier or straighter—or even a different color. In time, it may go back to how it was before treatment.
  • After radiation therapy. Hair often grows back in 3 to 6 months after treatment has ended. If you received a very high dose of radiation your hair may grow back thinner or not at all on the part of your body that received radiation.
Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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