Eleven years after Shannan was first diagnosed with a brain tumor, she stood crying in front of a mirror as she pulled clumps of hair out of her head, all the way down to the scalp.
“They told me at the very beginning there would be hair loss,” she said. “But I had no idea how much.”
Shannan’s treatment journey started in 2003 with an initial diagnosis, and then surgery to remove the brain tumor. Her doctor then prescribed Temador, a form of chemotherapy in pill form. In 2013, she had a second surgery, followed by external beam radiation and chemotherapy in 2014. She experienced many of the side effects caused by traditional radiation treatment, including extreme fatigue.
Like so many other patients with cancer or brain tumors, the worst side effect for Shannan was the dreaded hair loss.
Hair loss, or alopecia, is known to damage a patient’s self-identity and body image. It’s a possible side effect for all parts of the body being treated for cancer, but is more common and often more severe when treating the brain.
Hair falls out when chemotherapy treatments and traditional radiation therapy damage hair follicles, causing hair thinning or hair loss wherever it grows, including the scalp, arms and legs, armpits, eyebrows, eyelashes, and the pubic area. Different types of radiation and different doses cause varying levels of hair loss. In Shannan’s case, she had direct radiation to her head, causing hair to fall out in clumps. It was so severe, Shannan now jokes her husband would follow her around with a vacuum.
Hair usually starts to fall out two to four weeks after beginning radiation treatment and typically starts to regrow three to six months after treatment ends. There are a few options currently available to help prevent hair loss, like scalp cooling caps or applying Rogaine to the scalp.
However, these treatments are not guaranteed. For people with operable, newly diagnosed malignant and recurrent intracranial neoplasms, there’s another option.
When Shannan’s tumor recurred six years later in 2019, her doctor told her about GammaTile Therapy. “He said there’s been a lot of success with [this type of radiation therapy] and I would not really have any hair loss,” said Shannan. “I was really interested.”
Unlike external beam radiation, GammaTiles are placed directly at the site of the tumor, immediately after tumor removal, sparing healthy brain tissue and preventing adverse side effects. Shannan didn’t experience the severe hair loss and fatigue she did with external beam radiation. She said it was her best and easiest recovery to-date allowing her to “hit the ground running.”
On average, one out of every 80 people who receive GammaTile Therapy lose their hair. Since her last surgery, Shannan’s had two MRIs; both have come back showing no signs of tumor regrowth, and she and her doctor are very happy with the results. “The external beam radiation experience was not pleasant for me,” she said. “So just hearing there was another type of treatment possible gave me hope.”
Hear from other GammaTile patients and their caregivers at https://www.gammatile.com/patient-navigator.