A Procedure Called Micro-Needling Could Help One Cancer Survivor Get Her Hair Back

A Newton-based plastic surgeon is one of the only Boston-area doctors performing a new variation of the procedure.

Wendy Crone

Crone before her procedure, wearing a wig. Photo provided

“The first thing you think of when someone tells you you have to do chemotherapy is, ‘I’m going to lose my hair,'” says cancer survivor Wendy Crone. “The next thing you think of is, ‘I can’t wait until it starts growing back.'”

For Crone, a Scituate resident, it didn’t happen that way. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and undergoing several months of successful chemotherapy, Crone’s doctors decided she could cease treatment. But even after she did, her hair refused to grow, likely as a result of the type of chemotherapy she was given.

“After a year, I had hair, but it was sparse and it wasn’t getting length, either,” she remembers. “It was devastating.”

After trying countless shampoos and supplements—and purchasing a $3,000 laser that promised to kickstart growth—Crone thought she was out of options. Then, Dr. Joseph Russo, a Newton-based plastic surgeon, told her about a procedure called micro-needling.

Long used to treat skin conditions like scarring and wrinkles, micro-needling uses a motorized pen with a needle at the end, similar to a tattoo gun, to superficially penetrate skin to stimulate collagen and elastin production and encourage skin to regenerate. More recently, doctors have been using micro-needling to inject platelet-rich plasma (PRP) into patients’ scalps to kickstart hair growth.

PRP, Russo explains, could have a strong impact on hair growth because platelets contain the growth factors necessary for things like healing wounds and reversing inflammation, which could likely also work for hair growth. “We thought the two of them [micro-needling and PRP] would have this kind of synergistic reaction to create a better result,” Russo says.

As of now, Russo, who’s been performing PRP micro-needling for six months, says he’s one of the only Boston-area doctors using the procedure, but he doesn’t see it staying that way for long.

“It’s my personal feeling that within two years, it’ll be the number one procedure in the country, because it satisfies all the important criteria necessary for a procedure to be successful,” he says. “Number one, it doesn’t cost a lot. Number two, it doesn’t hurt that much. Number three, there isn’t much recovery. Number four, it works.”

Crone had her micro-needling procedure last week, and says she’s hopeful that it will help her put cancer treatment behind her for good.

“I feel as if I haven’t looked feminine or been myself since the chemotherapy, so I think I’ll get a sense of self back,” she says. “That person I was before.”