Hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy. Not all drugs used to treat cancer cause hair loss, however. Your doctor can tell you if hair loss is likely to occur with the drug or drugs you are taking. For some people, losing their hair is difficult. Talk about your feelings with friends and family. Knowing what to expect and talking about it with others can help you cope with hair loss and other changes related to cancer treatment. You may want to join a support group.
Will my hair fall out?
Hair loss – called alopecia – can happen because chemotherapy can harm the cells that make hair. As the chemotherapy drugs travel throughout the body to kill cancer cells, some of the drugs damage hair follicles, causing hair to fall out. Some drugs can cause the loss of hair on the head only, while other drugs can cause the loss of hair on the scalp, eyebrows and eyelashes as well as on other parts of the body.
Radiation therapy also can cause hair loss. People lose hair only in the area where they get radiation. If you are getting radiation to the head, you may lose the hair on your head.
Your hair may start to fall out 2 to 3 weeks after chemotherapy begins and 2 to 3 weeks after your first radiation therapy session.
Will my hair grow back?
For most people who have undergone chemotherapy, hair grows back in 2 to 3 months after chemotherapy is completed.
For people who have undergone radiation therapy, hair may grow back 3 to 6 months after the treatment is finished. For some patients who have received a very high dose of radiation, hair may not grow back.
Sometimes the texture of the new hair is different – curlier or straighter. And sometimes the color of the new hair is different. As time passes, the hair may return to how it looked before cancer treatment.
Consider these ways to prepare before your hair falls out.
- Cut your hair short. Shorter hair will look thicker, and if hair loss occurs, it will be easier to manage.
- Shave your head. If you decide to shave your head, be sure to use an electric shaver, not a razor so that you won’t cut your scalp.
- Get a wig. If you plan to buy a wig or hair piece, select it before or at the very start of treatment. This way you can match your hair. If this isn’t possible, save a lock of your hair from the top of your head (where hair is lightest) for future color matching. Find out if your wig can be adjusted, as you may need a different size as you lose hair. Some health insurance policies cover the cost of a wig or hairpiece related to cancer treatment hair loss. Check your policy and request a prescription from your doctor.
How should I care for my scalp during treatment and while my hair is falling out?
Your scalp may feel sensitive during treatment when your hair is falling out. Here are some helpful care tips.
- Treat your hair gently by using a mild shampoo and a soft hair brush.
- If you blow dry your hair, use low heat. Avoid using brush rollers, and don’t dye, perm or relax your hair.
- Protect your head from the sun by wearing a hat or sunscreen when you are outside.
- Wear a hat or scarf to protect your head from the cold. You might also want to wear a soft scarf while you sleep.
Magnolias at Moffitt is an onsite full-service salon providing professional salon services, hair prostheses, accessories and consultations. All services are provided by a licensed stylist. Appointments are required, and patients are given priority in scheduling appointments. Alternative hair services include wig care and styling, partial pieces, wig care products and a selection of wigs. Consultations and salon services are available by appointment at 813-745-7299.
The third Tuesday of every other month, Magnolias Salon hosts the American Cancer Society's Look Good Feel Better program. This class teaches beauty techniques to cancer patients to help them manage the appearance related side effects of cancer treatment. To register, please contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to register before the next class starts. Location: Owl's Den, Muriel Rothman Building (Clinic Building). Time: 10 a.m.- noon.