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Does Cancer Radiation Cause Hair Loss

Urinary And Bladder Changes

Hair Loss In Radiation Therapy – Dr. Afshin Forouzannia

Radiation therapy to the pelvis can cause urinary and bladder problems by irritating the healthy cells of the bladder wall and urinary tract. These changes may start 35 weeks after radiation therapy begins. Most problems go away 28 weeks after treatment is over. You may experience:

  • Burning or pain when you begin to urinate or after you urinate
  • Trouble starting to urinate
  • Bladder spasms, which are like painful muscle cramps

Ways to manage include:

  • Drink lots of fluids. Aim for 68 cups of fluids each day, or enough that your urine is clear to light yellow in color.
  • Avoid coffee, black tea, alcohol, spices and all tobacco products.
  • Talk with your doctor or nurse if you think you have urinary or bladder problems. You may need to provide a urine sample to check for infection.
  • Talk with your doctor or nurse if you have incontinence. He/she may refer you to a physical therapist to assess your problem. The therapist may recommend exercises to help you improve your bladder control.
  • Your doctor may prescribe medications to help you urinate, reduce burning or pain, and ease bladder spasms.

If Youre Getting Radiation Therapy To The Breast

If you have radiation to the breast, it can affect your heart or lungs as well causing other side effects.

Short-term side effects

Radiation to the breast can cause:

  • Skin irritation, dryness, and color changes
  • Breast soreness
  • Breast swelling from fluid build-up

To avoid irritating the skin around the breasts, try to go without wearing a bra. If this isnt possible, wear a soft cotton bra without underwires.

If your shoulders feel stiff, ask your cancer care team about exercises to keep your shoulder moving freely.

Breast soreness, color changes, and fluid build-up will most likely go away a month or 2 after you finish radiation therapy. If fluid build-up continues to be a problem, ask your cancer care team what steps you can take. See Lymphedema for more information.

Long-term changes to the breast

Radiation therapy may cause long-term changes in the breast. Your skin may be slightly darker, and pores may be larger and more noticeable. The skin may be more or less sensitive and feel thicker and firmer than it was before treatment. Sometimes the size of your breast changes it may become larger because of fluid build-up or smaller because of scar tissue. These side effects may last long after treatment.

After about a year, you shouldnt have any new changes. If you do see changes in breast size, shape, appearance, or texture after this time, tell your cancer care team about them right away.

Less common side effects in nearby areas

Side effects of brachytherapy

Hair Loss And Cancer Treatment

If treatment will cause hair loss, try wearing fun scarves and earringsor a cap, from time to time.

Some types of chemotherapy cause the hair on your head and other parts of your body to fall out. Radiation therapy can also cause hair loss on the part of the body that is being treated. Hair loss is called alopecia. Talk with your health care team to learn if the cancer treatment you will be receiving causes hair loss. Your doctor or nurse will share strategies that have help others, including those listed below.

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Talking To Children About Hair Loss

It may be helpful to keep in the mind the following when talking to a child about a parent or loved one experiencing hair loss:

  • Children benefit from simple and clear explanations that are easy to understand.

  • Provide concrete, age-appropriate information when speaking. Explain that the medications that their loved one is taking to help manage cancer may cause hair to fall out, and distinguish that hair loss is a result of treatment and not cancer.

  • Some children will want to hear more detailed scientific explanations, and others will be satisfied with general information. Answer your childrens questions as accurately as possible. Take their age and prior experiences with serious illness into account. If you do not know the answer to a question, dont panic. Its okay to say, I dont know. I will try to find out the answer and let you know.

  • Oncology social workers can help you to find the best ways of engaging in these conversations given your childs age and developmental stage.

Keep in the mind the following when helping a child understand their own hair loss as a side effect of treatment:

Edited by A.J. Cincotta-Eichenfield, LMSW

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During Treatment / Hair Loss

Pin on Things You Should Know About Alopecia
  • Treat hair gently. Use a mild shampoo such as baby shampoo to clean hair and scalp. Wash gently, and avoid rubbing too hard. Pat dry with a towel. Do not wash hair every day. Brush hair gently with a soft brush or wide toothed comb. Be careful with hair accessories that can get tangled or pull on hair.
  • Protect skin. Newly exposed skin is extra sensitive. The scalp may become red, flaky, and tender. Follow care team instructions for skin care and protection, especially after radiation therapy. Protect skin from the sun by limiting time outdoors, wearing a hat, and using sunscreen.
  • Talk to children about how to handle hard questions and situations. Hair loss can be especially difficult as children go back to school and social activities. Help children think about how they might respond to questions, looks, and even bullying. In most cases, people are just curious. Prepare and practice responses ahead of time so that interactions are less awkward. Encourage children and teens to be themselves and not to let appearance keep them from doing the things they enjoy.

Many children and teens struggle with body image concerns during and after cancer. Some patients may develop symptoms of anxiety or depression or avoid friends and social activities. If body image concerns get worse or affect daily activities, talk to a mental health professional.

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Does All Radiation Therapy Cause Hair Loss

Radiation therapy will generally cause hair loss to the body part that is being treated. For example, if your arm were treated with radiation, you may lose any hair on your arm, but the hair on your head would not be affected. The degree of hair loss will depend on several factors, including the size of the area being treated and the total dose of radiation being given. Hair loss is greatest within the treatment field, but may also occur in the area where the radiation beam exits the body.

Chemotherapy drugs also can cause hair loss. If you are also receiving chemotherapy, you should discuss whether or not the medications you are receiving may cause hair loss. When hair loss is caused by chemotherapy, it will include all the hair on your body . Learn more about hair loss caused by chemotherapy.

Tips For Coping With Cancer

Some of the most difficult side effects of cancer treatments may not cause physical pain. They may not cause fatigue or digestive issues. And they may only be temporary. But for some cancer patients, hair loss may be one of the most distressing side effects of cancer treatment.

Hair loss, or alopecia, may make you feel vulnerable, self-conscious and exposed as a cancer patient. Hair loss is also a tangible sign that your life has changed, which may trigger feelings of anger and depression. And you may be faced with questions from others that you arent prepared to deal with yet.

For some, the threat of hair loss may intensify the lack of control you may feel after a cancer diagnosis. But it also presents an opportunity to emotionally prepare for losing your hair and take steps to deal with it before it happens. It helps to understand why hair falls out and how to handle it if it occurs.

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What Kind Of Hair Loss Does Chemo Cause

At any given time, most of the hair follicles on our head and body are in an active phase of growth, called the anagen stage. Chemotherapy disrupts this active growth stage, causing the follicles to shut down and stop producing the cells that make up our strands of hair. This particular form of hair loss is called anagen effluvium.

While losing the hair on your head is common, you might also notice the loss of other body hair. Loss of eyebrows and eyelashes, as well as axillary and pubic hair is possible too, said Dr. Daniel Vorobiof, oncologist and chief medical director of Belong Life.

You might also see varying degrees of hair loss. Total alopecia is common, but it can also be scattered or patchy, added Dr. Vorobiof.

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Cosmetics And Camouflage Options

Dealing with Hair Loss from Cancer Treatment

Cosmetic or camouflage options help to hide hair loss using make-up, sprays, lotions or powders.

Cancer Research UK has skin care and make up tips during cancer treatment, including video tutorials, on their website.

The charity Look Good, Feel Better also offers free workshops across the country to help men, women and young adults with visible effects of cancer treatment.

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What Kind Of Hair Loss Does Radiation Cause

The kind of hair loss you will experience depends upon the type of radiation you get, how much you get , the part of your body that is receiving the radiation and your general health and unique physiology. If you will be receiving radiation to the head and/or neck, hair loss on the head is to be expected.

As mentioned, radiation will typically cause hair thinning and/or loss to the body part that is being treated. How much hair loss you might experience can be impacted by several factors, like the size of the area being treated and the dose of radiation being given. You might see hair thinning and/or lose your hair not only at the site of radiation treatment but also on the reverse side of the body, where the radiation beams exit the body.

Hair can become thinner, weaker and break over the course of your radiation therapy. However, more often, hair loss is sudden and comes out in clumps.

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When Hair Is Falling Out:

  • Consider getting a shorter hair cut. Shorter hair is easier to manage under a wig. A shorter style will make your hair look thicker and fuller because it does not lay as flat against the head. It may also make your hair loss less upsetting.
  • Some people choose to shave their head once hair starts falling out. If so, do not use a razor. A razor may cause nicks and cuts, which may lead to infection.
  • Wear a hair net, soft cap or turban around your head at night to collect any loose hair.
  • Be aware that during the period of time you lose hair, the scalp may be tender or sensitive. Some people tell of having a tingling feeling of the scalp during hair loss.
  • If the eyebrows start to thin, try using a clear or colored brow gel. These can be found at any discount or department store. A brow pencil can also be used to fill in gaps. Another option is to use eyeglasses with heavy colored frames. You can find these with or without a prescription.

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Managing Your Hair Loss

Losing your hair can cause more than a change in your physical appearance. It can be an emotional challenge that affects your self-image and quality of life. It is important to be kind to yourself during this stressful time.

People cope with hair loss in different ways. Thinking about how you feel most comfortable in managing hair loss before, during, and after treatment may help. And, your choices may change over time.

Cold cap therapy

Wearing a cap that cools the scalp can help prevent hair loss from drugs given through a vein. This treatment is called scalp cryotherapy. You wear the cap before, during, and after chemotherapy.

The cold makes the blood vessels in the skin of your head narrower. Less blood and less of the chemotherapy drug reaches your hair follicles through the blood vessels. Keeping your scalp very cold also helps prevent damage to the hair follicles. Talk with your health care team to learn if cold cap therapy is available and might work for you.


An over-the-counter medication called minoxidil may help thinning hair from hormonal therapy or targeted therapy. It may also help if your hair does not grow back completely after chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a stem cell/bone marrow transplant.

There are also other medications you can take by mouth. These include spironolactone and finasteride .

Things To Know About Chemotherapy

Wondering about hair loss during chemotherapy or radiation therapy ...

Starting chemotherapy for the first time? If you are new to this common cancer treatment, youâre probably wondering how chemotherapy works, if you will lose your hair or even if chemotherapy hurts.

We spoke with , to learn more. Heres what she had to say.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a group of medications that can shrink or destroy cancer cells.

Chemotherapy is used in a variety of ways. It may be given to rid the body of cancer, to shrink cancer so that surgery can be performed, or to control the disease and prolong someones life as long as possible.

How does chemotherapy work?

There are multiple types of chemotherapy, and each kind works a bit differently. In general, chemotherapy attacks rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells. Chemotherapy alters a cancer cells ability to grow or replicate itself. It can cause the cancer cell to die by not functioning properly or stop it from spreading by interfering with its ability to reproduce.

How are chemotherapy drugs usually given?

Most chemotherapy drugs are given through an IV, but some are injected into muscle, under the skin or directly into the spinal fluid. Other chemotherapy drugs can be swallowed in pill form.

Chemotherapy is often given in combination with other chemotherapy drugs or with other treatments, such as targeted therapy, radiation therapy or immunotherapy.

Does chemotherapy hurt?

What are the most common side effects of chemotherapy?

Am I going to lose my hair?

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Radiation Therapy Side Effects

The side effects of radiation therapy depend on the type of radiation therapy youre having. In general, the side effects tend to develop as treatment goes on and may be more troubling toward the end of treatment. Overall, the most common side effects are redness, swelling, and skin peeling in the area being treated. Read more about radiation therapy side effects.

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Radiation Therapy Is Painful

Radiotherapy patients should not experience any pain during the procedure, although some report a sense of warmth or tingling. Because the treatment affects fast-reproducing cells, both healthy and cancerous, it can cause some pain later on, generally due to skin irritation in the treated area. For most patients, this is fairly mild. For other patients, radiation therapy can be paused for a few days to allow the skin and other healthy cells to recover before continuing.

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Coping With Hair Loss

Hair loss can be upsetting. Talk to your care team if you find losing your hair difficult to cope with.

They understand how distressing it can be and can support you and discuss your options with you.

You may decide you want to wear a wig if you lose the hair on your head. Synthetic wigs are available free of charge on the NHS for some people, but you’ll usually have to pay for a wig made from real hair.

Other options include headwear such as headscarves.

What Side Effects Occur With Radiation Therapy To The Pelvis

Avoiding hair loss during Chemotherapy

If you are having radiation therapy to any part of the pelvis , you might have one or more of the digestive problems already described. You also may have some irritation to your bladder. This can cause discomfort or frequent urination. Drinking fluids can help relieve some of your discomfort. Your doctor can prescribe medication to deal with these problems.

There are also certain side effects that occur only in the reproductive organs. The effects of radiation therapy on sexual and reproductive functions depend on which organs are treated. Some of the more common side effects for both men and women do not last long after treatment. Others may be long-term or permanent. Before your treatment begins, ask your doctor about possible side effects and how long they might last.

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Looking After Your Hair During Breast Cancer Treatment

The following tips may be helpful for all hair types during treatment:

  • try not to wash your hair for about two days after chemotherapy, especially if having scalp cooling
  • use a mild, unperfumed shampoo and conditioner
  • try not to wash your hair more than twice a week
  • use warm rather than hot water
  • pat your hair dry rather than rubbing it
  • brush or comb your hair gently with a soft hairbrush or wide tooth plastic comb
  • avoid plaiting or braiding it as this may damage your hair
  • avoid using elastic bands to tie back long hair
  • avoid any hair colours and dyes, perms, relaxers and other products containing strong chemicals
  • avoid products containing alcohol, such as hairspray, which can irritate the scalp
  • avoid excessive heat from hair straighteners, hairdryers, hot brushes and heated rollers
  • massaging the scalp may help by improving the blood supply to the hair follicles
  • avoid hair extensions and weaves as these can also weaken the hair

If chemotherapy doesnt cause hair loss, it may make it brittle, dry or straw-like, so its a good idea to treat your hair as gently as possible. Hormone therapy can also cause the hair to thin and feel fragile.

Due to its structure, African and Caribbean hair is the most vulnerable to damage of all hair textures so it is recommended to take special care and use specific products.

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