Cancer Treatment Has Unexpected Side Effect: Reversing Gray Hair

Cancer treatment comes with a long list of adverse effects, despite its end goal. On the plus side, scientists may have accidentally discovered a new side effect — reversing gray hair.

Lung cancer patients undergoing treatment in Spain experienced hair darkening — an unexpected result that prompted further study.

Research published in JAMA Dermatology looked at the possible effects of two different cancer treatments. A total of 14 patients experienced hair darkening — their gray hair turned brown or black. Of these 14 people, 13 also responded well to other effects of both treatments.

This is the first time researchers have observed a hair-darkening effect in patients undergoing immunotherapy.

Patient in a bed in the hospital

Some patients received a pleasant surprise during treatment. | Getty Images/Chris Hondros

According to the American Cancer Society, immunotherapy involves stimulating a person’s immune system to combat diseases like cancer. Chemotherapy or radiation target cancer cells directly. These therapies, however, train the immune system to engage these cells on its own.

Cancer treatment, regardless of the type, has one objective: kill cancer cells. Sometimes this can irritate, weaken, or damage other parts of the body in the process. The most common side effects are flu-like symptoms, and skin reactions such as soreness and swelling at the injection site. Apparently, reversing gray hair also happens sometimes.

Are cancer treatment drugs the gray hair-curing solution you’ve been dreaming of? Don’t cancel your cut-and-color at the salon just yet. If there’s ever a remedy that will work for everyone, it won’t be available anytime soon.

The study only noted the effect in 14 participants. So it’s impossible to say whether anyone can use cancer drugs to get rid of gray hair. However, scientists may be able to use this research to develop alternative, safe treatments to reverse gray hair.

Until then, keep your box dyes and your hair stylist’s number on speed dial. But one day, you may no longer need them.

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