Hair loss is a possible side effect that many patients may experience during their cancer treatment when undergoing chemotherapy treatment. This side effect depends mostly on the type of chemotherapy and the amount given. While some of targeted drugs will not affect your hair, the majority of chemotherapy drugs do cause hair loss.
Both men and women report hair loss as one of the side effects they fear the most after being diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately, hair loss from chemotherapy is generally temporary. Patients can expect to start noticing their hair growing back within a few months following their cancer treatment.
Why Does Hair Loss Happen?
When it comes to treating cancer, chemotherapy drugs are very powerful medications that attack rapidly growing cancer cells. Unfortunately, many of these cancer drugs also attack many healthy growing cells, such as those cells responsible for hair follicles.
Chemotherapy may not just cause hair loss on the patient’s scalp, but throughout their body, including eyelashes, eyebrows or even hair on the legs. Some chemotherapy drugs are more likely than others to cause hair loss, while different dosage amounts may vary a patient’s hair loss from thinning to complete baldness. Your oncologist or nurse can tell you what to expect. Just as each individual’s cancer diagnosis and medical profile is different, so will their reaction to chemotherapy treatment differ as well.
Hair Loss and Chemotherapy
Patients generally begin noticing hair loss one to three weeks after their first treatment. Hair may fall out quickly in clumps or more gradually. Patients may notice accumulations of loose hair on their pillow when they wake up, when they brush or comb their hair or when they shower. Hair loss usually continues throughout the patient’s cancer treatment and up to a few weeks after the completion of their treatment. The type of cancer treatment will also determine how much hair loss a patient can expect.
Following treatment, it may take a few weeks for hair to recover and begin growing back. When the hair does start growing back, it will most likely be slightly different for the original hair. This difference is usually temporary, but the newly grown hair may have a different texture, color or may even be curlier than before chemotherapy.
Preparing for Hair Loss
While the prospect of losing your hair during cancer treatment may cause anxiety, patients can best prepare emotionally by planning ahead. Focusing on making yourself comfortable with your appearance before, during and after your cancer treatment is essential. The earlier you are able to prepare for your hair loss, the better you will be able to cope when your hair begins to thin and fall out.
Tips to Help with Hair Loss
When hair loss occurs and during the period when hair begins to grow back, patients may experience that their scalps are dry, extra tender or even itchy. Keeping your scalp clean by using a gentle moisturizing shampoo and conditioner may help, as well as using creams or lotions to help moisture the scalp. Even gentle scalp massages may help your scalp feel better. Here are some other tips:
Cut your hair short. A shorter style will make your hair look thicker and fuller, as well as make your hair more manageable to deal with when you begin to lose hair.
See a cosmetologist, who can provide tips on what to do when eyebrows or eyelashes are lost, such as using make up or false eyelashes.
Use a sunscreen to protect your scalp from the sun.
Use soft bristle hair brushes.
Wash your hair less frequently and use a mild shampoo.
Do not dye your hair.
Use a satin pillow case.
Tips for Covering Your Head
If and how to cover your head depends upon your comfort level. Some patients choose wigs, scarves, bandannas, caps or hats, while others choose to leave their heads uncovered. And others prefer switching back and forth, depending on whether they are in public or at home with friends and family. Which option is best for you ultimately comes down to which offers you the most physical and emotional comfort. Should you decide to cover your head, here are some tips:
Shop for your wig before you lose a lot of hair so that you can match your natural color, texture and style.
Purchase a wig from specialty store for cancer patients.
Check with your health insurance to verify if they provide partial coverage for your wig.
Find more information on wigs or purchase a wig, hat or head cover through the American Cancer Society’s Tender Loving Care website at www.tlcdirect.org.
While hair loss is an unfortunate side effect of chemotherapy that just about all patients go through, it’s also a sign that your chemotherapy is working and helping you to fight your disease. And, thankfully, it is a temporary side effect, as your hair will start growing back.
Please visit our chemotherapy side effects page to learn more about other possible side effects during cancer treatment.