Hair loss has been well established as a distressing side effect of cancer treatment. Cancer Council Victoria (CCV) has operated a free wig service since November 2012 to support people experiencing hair loss, and while several Cancer Councils in Australia operate similar services, the impact of these programs has not been formally evaluated.
To describe the population that has accessed the CCV wig service, to explore their experience of cancer related hair loss, and to evaluate the impact of this service.
A retrospective audit of service records from November 2012 – August 2015 was conducted to establish a service user profile. Sub-analysis of records from January – August 2015 focused on topics discussed in nurse-led wig service consultations. In January – April 2016, 15 semi-structured phone interviews were conducted and analysed thematically to further explore the experience of service users.
Nurses documented discussing 55 separate topics in addition to hair loss with service users. Topics were categorised into overarching themes including: treatment (discussed in 46% of consultations); patient navigation/referral (25% consultations); and emotional support (23% of consultations). Interviewees described a wide variety of hair loss experiences that were mostly negative and in some cases traumatic. The most common reason for accessing the CCV wig service was a desire to retain a sense of normalcy despite a changed physical appearance. Most interviewees reported a high level of satisfaction with their wigs, and used them frequently. Two interviewees from CALD backgrounds reported that their wigs failed to meet their needs.
This study demonstrates the value of CCV’s nurse-led wig service to patients experiencing hair loss. As this is the first formal evaluation of any wig service, these findings may also assist other state-based Cancer Councils who run or are looking to set up similar services in the future.