Hair loss is one of the common side effects of cancer treatment. Given its nature and effect on your physical appearance, it might have a psychological impact. As much as hair loss caused by cancer treatment isn’t harmful to your body, it is a reminder of the effects of cancer. This might affect your mindset and how you feel about yourself. Chemotherapy and radiation are the two common cancer treatment methods. Before starting any of these treatments, your doctor will tell you whether they are likely to cause hair loss. Besides, you will also be informed about the other effects they might have on your body.
Why Does Hair Loss Occur?
The loss of hair due to cancer treatment is also known as Alopecia. This condition occurs because chemotherapy kills the hair follicles on your head. As a result, your hair will fall out more quickly than it should. If cancer treatment causes hair loss, other body parts will be affected besides the head. For instance, the whole body might be affected, including the eyebrows and eyelashes. The type of hair loss varies from one person to another. For example, it might become thinner or disappear completely. The hair loss might start in a week, or it may take several weeks after you start your cancer treatment. Besides, it might occur gradually or in clumps. All this depends on the type of cancer treatment you are subjected to.
As mentioned earlier, chemotherapy is one of the most popular forms of cancer treatment. Generally, chemotherapy drugs are powerful medications that strive to reduce the multiplication of cancer cells. While these drugs help kill cancer cells, they also attack other growing cells in your body — even those responsible for hair growth. This explains why chemo can cause hair loss in other parts of the body, not just the scalp. You could experience hair loss in the armpit, eyelash, eyebrow, and pubic hair. It is important to note that some cancer treatment drugs are more likely to cause hair loss than others. The degree of hair loss also varies from one type of drug to another. Therefore, talking to your doctor about the type of cancer treatment you will take is important. Have a conversation with them and let them tell you what you should expect.
Besides chemotherapy, radiation therapy can also cause hair loss or thinning. However, unlike chemotherapy, radiation therapy doesn’t cause hair loss in the entire body. With radiation therapy, you will only have hair loss in the area directly under the radiation beam. Therefore, if you are having radiation in the abdomen, the hair loss will occur only in the abdomen. You will only lose hair on your head if you receive radiation to your scalp or head. With radiation, hair might start falling out of the affected area after two to three weeks of receiving treatment. The hair will start growing back once the radiation treatments are over. This is the case if you receive a moderate dose of radiation. However, the hair loss might be completely or partially permanent if you receive a high radiation dose. Thankfully, this isn’t the case in most patients.
While hair loss due to cancer treatment might have a negative impact on your mindset, it is only temporary. You are likely to grow your hair back after chemotherapy treatment. After the treatment ends, it takes about three to six months to regrow your hair. However, the hair might be a different texture or shade than it originally was. Depending on the type of cancer treatment you are on, you will start experiencing hair loss around two to four weeks. The hair might fall out gradually or very quickly in clumps. For early signs of hair loss, you can notice lots of loose hair in your hairbrush, pillow, or in the shower drain. Besides, you might also have a tender scalp during the early stages of hair loss. Whether the hair only thins or becomes completely bald depends on the kind of treatment your body is subjected to. People with different types of cancer report hair loss as the most stressful side effect of cancer treatment. Every time you have a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, you notice the difference in your appearance. The daily reminder of your appearance could take a toll on your physical well-being.
Can You Prevent Hair Loss?
Given the bad feeling associated with hair loss, most people wonder whether you can prevent it. No treatment exists that can guarantee the prevention of hair loss due to cancer treatment. While several treatments have been investigated, none of them have proven to be effective. However, there are a few procedures that can help reduce or slow down hair loss in the course of cancer treatment. Some of them include;
- Scalp cooling caps: Also referred to as scalp hypothermia, cooling caps can be a reliable way of dealing with hair loss. With this method, a closely fitted cap (one that has been cooled by a cold liquid) is placed on your head. This helps reduce blood flow to your scalp. The cap is fitted on your head during chemotherapy infusions. Doing so helps prevent hair loss because chemo drugs are less likely to have a negative impact on your hair. This goes a long way in reducing or preventing hair loss.
The good news is that studies done on scalp cooling caps show that they are effective in most people that use them. If you want to prevent the effects of chemo on hair loss, the scalp cooling caps might come in handy. While the caps are largely effective on your scalp, the procedure could result in a small risk of cancer recurring in the scalp. This could be the case because the scalp is the only area that doesn’t receive the same amount of chemo as the rest of your body. Besides, some patients using scalp cooling caps report having headaches and feeling uncomfortably cold. Therefore, it is vital to weigh your options before settling on scalp hypothermia.
- Minoxidil: Also known as Rogaine, Minoxidil is a type of drug approved for hair loss. When you apply this drug to your scalp during chemotherapy, you could increase your hair growth rate. This means that the hair won’t necessarily prevent hair loss. Minoxidil is a good option for those okay with losing hair and focused on getting it back after chemotherapy. More research is being done on the drug to ascertain its impact on regrowing hair after cancer treatment.
What You Should Know About Managing Chemo Hair Loss
Chemotherapy is one of the most effective ways of stopping the spread of cancer cells. Many people living with the disease have had their health steadily improve after chemotherapy treatment. While chemo is a reliable method of cancer treatment, it has its side effects. Hair loss is one of the major side effects of chemotherapy. This condition can also be a major source of stress and self-esteem problems for those affected. Therefore, it is vital to know the facts regarding hair loss due to chemotherapy. Such information will help patients know how to handle the effects and get over the bad feeling. Here are a few facts about chemo-related hair loss and strategies on how you can manage it.
Not Every Chemotherapy Treatment Leads To Hair Loss
While most types of chemotherapy treatment result in hair loss, some of them don’t. This is the case because some types of cancer treatments are more likely to result in hair loss than others. You should discuss with your doctor and find out whether hair loss is a common side effect of the chemotherapy treatment you are being subjected to. This information will help you adjust accordingly. Besides, the doctor should enlighten you on what to expect within one to four weeks of starting chemo treatment. This is the time when you are likely to start losing hair due to chemo treatment. You should also know that the level of hair loss varies depending on the type of chemo treatment. As mentioned earlier, some treatments will result in permanent hair loss while some only cause partial loss.
Hair Loss Caused by Chemotherapy Is Mostly Temporary
In most cases, hair loss caused by chemotherapy is temporary. Therefore, you shouldn’t worry about your physical appearance because, in the long run, you are likely to grow your hair back. If you lose your hair due to chemotherapy treatment, it will start growing back a few months after you stop the treatment. Experts say you can expect to start growing your hair back after approximately three to six months. During this time, there are several things you can do to help your hair grow back smoothly.
One way you can do so is by treating it gently. When the hair starts growing back, you should avoid bleaching it or coloring it in the early stages. This is crucial because it helps prevent more hair loss due to the use of harmful substances. You should also expect a few changes when your hair grows back. For instance, it might be in a slightly different texture or color than usual. The good news is that these differences are temporary. With time, your hair will go back to its normal color and texture.
You Can Consider Maintaining Shorter Hair
When undergoing chemotherapy treatment, shorter hair might make a huge difference. Maintaining shorter hair is encouraged because it makes it look fuller than long hair. This makes the ongoing hair loss less noticeable. Therefore, if you would like to keep your appearance normal, a shorter haircut could be just what you need. If you typically have long hair, you should consider cutting it short before starting chemo. Generally, when you start chemotherapy treatment, hair loss might make your head or scalp feel irritated, itchy, or sensitive. This might make it quite inconveniencing if you have long hair. Therefore, keeping your hair short will help reduce discomfort. Many cancer patients prefer the look of cleanly shaved hair rather than having partial hair loss. The clean shave appearance doesn’t expose chemo effects on your head or scalp.
You Can Consider Using Head Coverings
Hair loss is almost inevitable after chemotherapy treatment, but there is a way you can handle it. If you are self-conscious about losing hair, then you can wear a head covering. A significant number of cancer patients choose this option when undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Thankfully, there are many head coverings you can choose from — from wigs to hats, there is a way you can cover your head. Apart from enhancing your appearance, these coverings are useful because they protect your scalp from cold air and sunlight. Some wigs match your hair, meaning that if you shave off your hair and wear them, people will hardly notice the difference. If you might want to wear a wig that matches your natural hair, you should get it before you start chemotherapy. Ordering it before treatment will help the wig maker create a more realistic wig that matches your hair. You also have the option to try different styles that suit your facial appearance.
It Is Okay To Feel Upset
Losing hair due to chemotherapy treatment affects patients in different ways. For many, hair loss can be very stressful. If you are having trouble dealing with hair loss or any other side effects of chemotherapy treatment, you should seek emotional support. You can do so by joining an in-person or online support group for people going through the same problem. This will allow you to share your experiences and hear from others experiencing the same. Doing so will give you the strength to continue with treatment. Besides, you will not feel alone anymore. You might also be interested in connecting with hairstyle experts that will help you address issues you have with your appearance. Several programs offer free workshops to help those battling cancer. Attending such workshops will help you learn about different topics related to hair loss like cosmetics, wigs, and daily skincare routine. Such experiences will help you put up a spirited fight against cancer.
How to Care for Your Hair in Chemotherapy Treatment
While hair loss due to chemotherapy treatment cannot be controlled or prevented, it can be managed. Knowing how to manage hair loss in the course of chemo treatment is very important.
- Handle your hair gently: Before you start chemotherapy treatment, you should handle your hair gently. You should find a way to be kind to your hair during this period. There are several ways you can do so, including not bleaching or perming the hair. You shouldn’t do any of that because it can significantly weaken it. You wouldn’t want to go to chemo with weakened hair. It is also helpful to air-dry your hair as much as possible. This is the case because it prevents heating devices such as hot rollers and curling irons. You should also strengthen the hair before the treatment because it helps it stay in your head for a little longer during chemotherapy.
- Consider cutting your hair: Cutting your hair is also a reliable way of taking care of it. When you cut your hair, it will appear short — short hair looks fuller than long hair. This means that as hair falls out, it won’t be noticeable when you keep it short. You are encouraged to cut the hair short before starting chemotherapy treatment. Those with naturally long hair should keep it shorter when about to start chemo. This helps them make a smoother transition to total hair loss.
- Plan on enhancing your appearance: After experiencing hair loss due to chemo treatment, you should consider improving your appearance. Thankfully, there are several ways you can do so. Getting a head covering is one of the most popular options. You can get a wig or cap that covers your head after losing hair to chemo.
- Maintain gentle hair care: Your hair will start growing back after the chemotherapy treatment. However, the new hair is fragile and vulnerable to almost anything. You shouldn’t use heating devices or styling products during that time because they could affect your hair. Besides, you shouldn’t bleach or color your hair. Bleaching or coloring your hair could affect its regrowth and irritate the sensitive scalp. You might also experience mild headaches due to using such products.
- Be patient: After chemotherapy treatment, patience is vital. You shouldn’t rush into wanting your hair back right away. In any case, the hair will grow back slowly and might not appear normal immediately. The path to normalcy takes time, and you need to be patient. Give your hair time to grow back and help you regain your appearance. You are warned against using any hair products designed to stimulate hair growth. Such products could not only be harmful to your health but also your hair. Instead of speeding up hair growth, they might stagnate it completely.