Conference Coverage

Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia called epidemic in skin of color



– For unclear reasons, the prevalence of central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA), a progressive disease of permanent hair loss, is increasing dramatically among black women, creating an urgent need for early diagnosis and treatment, according to an expert who described this phenomenon at the Skin of Color Update 2019.

Dr. Susan Taylor, director of diversity, department of dermatology, Penn Medicine, Philadelphia Ted Bosworth/MDedge News

Dr. Susan Taylor

“CCCA has reached epidemic proportions,” contended Susan Taylor, MD, director of diversity, department of dermatology, Penn Medicine, Philadelphia.

Published data place prevalence rates of CCCA somewhere in the range of 3% to 6% among black women, but Dr. Taylor reported that she believes the condition is underdiagnosed. “I am seeing far more patients now than I was 30 years ago,” she maintained.

Others participating in the Skin of Color Update 2019 agreed. Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, director of ethnic skin care, department of dermatology and cutaneous surgery, University of Miami, also called the rising incidence of CCCA “an epidemic.” She, like Dr. Taylor, emphasized the critical importance of early diagnosis and treatment.

“I tell patients that if we can prevent hair loss over the next 10 years, this is a treatment success,” Dr. Woolery-Lloyd said. Although hair regrowth can be achieved in a minority of patients with treatments such as minoxidil, “the first goal is to prevent hair loss.”

Upon diagnosis, Dr. Woolery-Lloyd recommends treatment with intralesional triamcinolone and topical steroids immediately, adding other agents, such as oral antibiotics, if needed. Even in cases where CCCA has been identified before hair loss is visible, Dr. Woolery-Lloyd advised immediate therapy. Given that CCCA is a disease of reversible hair loss, she said, “do not take a wait-and-see approach.”

One potential obstacle for early diagnosis of CCCA, shared by other types of alopecia that are common in skin of color, is the failure of many clinicians to employ a standardized diagnosis in this patient population.

“If you do not have tightly coiled hair, it does not mean you cannot understand tightly coiled hair, but you have to learn, and you have to let patients know that you understand and have experience,” said Dr. Taylor, emphasizing the role of reassuring patients so they can be confident in the clinical recommendations.

Part of this reassurance will be derived from “interacting with patients in a culturally competent manner,” Dr. Taylor said. Clinicians must develop comfort and confidence in physically examining the hair and scalp, in asking patients to remove weaves or braids for a thorough inspection, and in avoiding comments that might be misinterpreted. Among these, she advised tactful questions about shampooing to avoid any implication that the clinician is implying inadequate hygiene.

When CCCA is suspected, a “biopsy is important” even in circumstances when the diagnosis seems straightforward. For one reason, a substantial proportion of patients may have a concomitant diagnosis. Dr. Taylor cited data from one study in which nearly 20% of CCCA patients also had traction alopecia and more than 10% had androgenic alopecia. Other coexisting problems identified on biopsy, including infection or seborrheic dermatitis, can help clinicians tailor a more effective intervention.

The initial signs of CCCA are typically hair breakage in the vertex of the scalp, which then expands in a central centrifugal pattern, according to Dr. Taylor. Although not all patients have signs of inflammation, such as itching and pustules, inhibition of inflammation represents the first line of therapy.

Relative to hair in the white population, the hair of black individuals grows more slowly and is more fragile, with greater amounts of breakage, said Dr. Taylor, citing published studies that support these differences. To improve early diagnosis of CCCA, understanding the hair in the black population is the first step for spotting problems in routine physical examinations. It may be this lack of familiarity that is contributing to underdiagnosis of CCCA.

“Almost 70% of African-American patients feel that physicians do not understand their hair,” Dr. Taylor said. “Let’s begin to change that.”

Cautioning that it is too often assumed that hairstyles and hair care, such as relaxants or hot combs, are the source of hair loss in black women, Dr. Taylor advised not to jump to conclusions. As an example, she described a case where weaves, braids, and other strategies were employed to mask alopecia after CCCA developed, not before.

“CCCA is the most important cause of scarring alopecia in African-American women,” Dr. Taylor said. Reiterating that hair loss can be prevented or modified with treatment, she added that this places the emphasis on first obtaining an accurate diagnosis.

Dr. Taylor has a financial relationship with Biersdorf; Dr. Woolery-Lloyd has financial relationships with Allergan, Galderma, Ortho Diagnostics, Pfizer, and Somabella Laboratories.

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