Hair Loss and Chemotherapy
What is hair loss and how is chemotherapy related?
- Believe it or not, hair loss (alopecia) due to chemotherapy is one of the
most distressing side effects of chemo treatments.
- Hair loss happens because the chemotherapy affects all cells in the body, not just
the cancer cells. The lining of the mouth, stomach, and the hair follicles
are especially sensitive because those cells multiply rapidly just like the cancer
cells. The difference is that the normal cells will repair themselves, making these
side effects temporary.
- Hair loss does not occur with all chemotherapy. Whether or not your hair remains
as it is, thins or falls out, depends on the drugs and dosages.
- Hair loss may occur as early as the second or third week after the first cycle of
chemotherapy, although it may not happen until after the second cycle of chemotherapy.
- Hair loss can be sudden or slow.
- You may lose all of your hair or just some of it.
- Often it comes out in clumps rather than an even pattern.
- It is common for hair loss to include hair that grows anywhere including eyelashes,
eyebrows, and even pubic hair.
In almost all cases of chemotherapy-induced hair loss, your
hair will resume growth after treatments.
- It may take from three to six months after therapy is completed or it may start
growing back while you are still receiving chemotherapy. Be prepared for your
"new" hair to possibly have a slightly different color, texture, or curl.
Can you prevent hair loss during chemo treatments?
Through the years, attempts have been made to reduce hair loss by using tight bands
or ice caps. While these techniques may reduce hair loss by reducing blood
flow to the scalp and limiting chemotherapy exposure to hair follicles, there is
a theoretical concern that this could reduce the effectiveness of treatment in that
What can be done to manage hair loss due to chemotherapy?
Management of hair loss focuses on your own comfort, or discomfort with baldness
and on keeping your head warm if you live in a cool climate, as well as protection from
the sun. The following are options to consider, the best option is the one
that is most comfortable for you:
- Short hair - Cut your hair short if you are expecting hair
loss during chemotherapy. Since hair often does not fall out evenly,
some find losing short hair is less distressing. Some people shave their
heads once the hair begins to fall out.
- Wigs - If you are interested in purchasing a wig, the best time
to do this is before you lose any hair. This helps the stylist create the
best match. Many insurance companies will pay for a wig, so be sure you have
it written as a prescription from your doctor (usually written as "cranial prosthesis").
There are wig stylists who specialize in wigs for alopecia (hair loss). Check
your yellow pages or ask at the doctor's office.
- Caps and Scarves - Some people find that the easiest, and most
comfortable options are caps and scarves. These range from those you may already
own to custom items made expressly for people who are undergoing chemotherapy.
- You might check with your local chapter of the American Cancer Society. They
sponsor a program called "Look Good, Feel Better." This program addresses
ways to tie scarves and ways to make yourself look and feel better while experiencing
hair loss during and after chemotherapy.
Note: We strongly encourage you to talk with your health
care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information
contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute
for medical advice.