Why Does Chemotherapy Cause Hair Loss
Cancer occurs when cells multiply rapidly and uncontrollably in a specific part of the human body and spread to surrounding tissues. Old cells survive when they should die, and new cells form when they are not needed.
Chemotherapy treats cancer by infusing cytostatic drugs that aim to destroy abnormal cells or delay their growth. Unfortunately, the process impacts normal cells in other parts of the body. The good part is that normal cells can repair themselves, making the side effects temporary.
The stem cells in the bulge region of hair follicles naturally multiply rapidly, like cancer cells. As a side effect of chemotherapy, drugs affect the hair follicle stem cells . The obstruction in the biological cell division of keratinocytes causes hair loss.
What Percentage Of Chemo Patients Lose Their Hair
According to a multicenter survey, the meantime of hair loss from chemotherapy is 18 days during the treatment. Average hair loss occurred in 99.9% of the patients undergoing chemotherapy, of which 65% of them faced excessive hair loss.
The mean time from completion of chemotherapy and the beginning of hair regrowth is 3.3 months. Scalp hair regrowth is successful in 98% of the patients. 47% of them used a wig for one year because of slow regrowth. The remaining people faced stunted hair growth for years.
Talking With Your Health Care Team About Hair Loss
Prepare for your visit by making a list of questions to ask. Consider adding these questions to your list:
- Is treatment likely to cause my hair to fall out?
- How should I protect and care for my head? Are there products that you recommend? Ones I should avoid?
- Where can I get a wig or hairpiece?
- What support groups could I meet with that might help?
- When will my hair grow back?
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How To Deal With Cancer
When you’re struggling with cancer, treatments and the challenges that come with a diagnosis, it may be difficult to adjust to hair loss and other changes to your body and appearance. But there are ways to prepare for and deal with hair loss when it occurs. Here are 12 ways to help cope with cancer-related hair loss:
Give yourself time. Losing your hair may be difficult to accept. It may take time to adjust to how you look, then more time to feel good about yourself again. Its okay to feel upset. At the same time, understand that losing your hair is usually temporary and hair will re-grow after you complete treatment.
Remember youre still you. Losing your hair and experiencing other physical changes brought on by cancer and its treatment may come as a shock. It may be disorienting to look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. Remember that youre still the same person on the inside. Try to celebrate who you are and focus on those qualities.
Prepare ahead for hair changes. Before you begin cancer treatment, prepare in advance for changes to your hair. Talk to your doctor about what to expect. Meet with a stylist who is familiar with cancer-related hair loss. Some people choose to wear head coverings, and others dont. Choose whatever feels most comfortable for you. It also helps to think about how you will respond to reactions from others.
Will I Lose My Hair During Breast Cancer Treatment
Many people will lose either some or all of their hair as a result of treatment for breast cancer. People who have chemotherapy will often experience hair loss. Some other treatments may cause hair loss or thinning.
If theres a chance that you will lose your hair, your specialist, chemotherapy nurse or breast care nurse will talk to you before treatment starts about what might happen. This should also include information about any risk of permanent hair thinning or loss that could happen as a result of the treatment. As well as talking about practical issues such as caring for your scalp or wearing a wig, you can also discuss your feelings about losing your hair and what support might be available to help you adjust to it.
For some, losing their hair is the most distressing side effect of treatment. Find out more about coping with hair loss.
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Coping With Hair Loss When You Have Cancer
Despite the difficulty facing hair loss when you have cancer, some things can help you cope with the loss of your natural hair. Try to remember some of the following:
Dont assume you will experience permanent hair loss.
Some cancer patients take comfort in the fact that hair loss is usually temporary, and they can begin to see new hair growth soon after the end of their treatment cycle.
Dont assume your hair loss will be total.
Others find relief when they realize they might not experience complete hair loss. These patients might be very happy to have thin hair instead of no hair.
Not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss.
Speak to your doctor or another member of your health care team about what to expect regarding hair loss. The more you know, the more prepared you can be. Ask if you will lose all your hair or some of your hair. Find out how soon after you start treatment you can expect to begin losing your hair.
There might be ways to reduce the trauma of hair loss.
Sometimes, feeling like you have control can help you cope with hair loss. For example, some people take steps to minimize the anxiety of hair loss by cutting their hair short before starting treatment.
Others make sure they stock up on gentle hair products like a soft baby brush, wide-toothed comb, and mild shampoo so they can protect their remaining hair.
Inquire about methods of minimizing hair loss.
Consider head coverings.
Covering The Cost Of Scalp Cooling
The cost of using cold caps or scalp cooling system varies depending on the manufacturer, the number of chemotherapy sessions you have, and the number of months you need to use the scalp cooling method.
Cold caps typically cost about $380 to $450 per month, plus shipping costs and a refundable security deposit in some cases. Scalp cooling systems can cost from $2,000 to $2,200 for a full course of chemotherapy. Some cancer centers also charge a facility fee each time you use their scalp cooling system during a chemotherapy infusion.
Insurance coverage for scalp cooling is not yet standard in the United States, but some people have successfully gotten their health insurance to cover some or all of the cost. Aetna is one health insurance company that considers scalp cooling to prevent hair loss during chemotherapy to be a medically necessary, covered expense . Check with your health insurance company to find out their policies. Also, contact the manufacturer that makes the cold cap or scalp cooling system you plan to use for advice on how to submit a claim to your health insurance company for reimbursement. Learn more about insurance coverage for the DigniCap system and about insurance coverage for the Paxman system.
Written by: Jen Uscher, contributing writer
Nancy Marshall, co-founder of The Rapunzel Project
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Who Experiences Hair Loss
Not every person will lose his or her hair during cancer care. In fact, two patients taking the same medication may experience different hair-loss side effects. One patient may lose hair, while another doesnt. If alopecia does occur, the extent of hair loss varies widely depending on the type, dosage, frequency and method of treatment, as well as other individual factors.
In some cases, the hair may fall out, but become thin, dull and dry. When hair loss occurs, hair may fall out gradually, quickly, in clumps or entirely. The scalp may also feel tender or itchy beforehand.
Most hair loss is temporary, and hair will grow back after cancer treatment ends. Hair generally grows back within three months after chemotherapy ends and three to six months after radiation ends. Sometimes hair re-growth begins even before therapy is complete. Its common for hair to grow back a slightly different color and texture at first.
Baldness drug treatments, such as minoxidil, are not proven to be consistently effective to reduce or prevent hair loss caused by cancer treatment. In some cases, cooling caps, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for some patients, may help to protect hair cells from chemotherapy drugs. Cooling caps are designed to work by constricting cells, making it more difficult for the drugs to penetrate, and by reducing cellular activity in the hair follicles, making them a less likely target for chemotherapy drugs.
Eyebrows Eyelashes And Make
With some chemotherapies, people might also lose their eyebrows and eyelashes. Make-up, eyebrow pencil, eyeliner or false eyelashes can help, and many cancer support groups have workshops to help patients learn these techniques.
For example, the charity Look Good Feel Better holds free skincare and make-up workshops and masterclasses across the UK for women undergoing treatment for cancer.
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Why Did My Hair Grow Back Curly
During this period of regrowth, new cells are being generated, which leads to hair growth. Most scientists believe that as the process is not fully regularized, the initial hair grown back after chemo may show certain changes than the original hair. This can be one reason why hair grows back curly after chemo.
Caring For Your Hair And Head
Here are suggestions on how to care for your hair and head while youre getting treatment. For more information, read our resource Hair Loss and Your Cancer Treatment.
- Wash and condition your hair every 2 to 4 days with a fragrance-free shampoo and a cream rinse or hair conditioner.
- Always rinse your hair well and pat it dry with a soft towel.
- Brush or comb your hair gently with a soft-bristle brush or comb. Start brushing or combing your hair at the ends and gently work your way up to your scalp. You can also finger-comb your hair by wetting your fingers with water.
- If your hair is long, you may want to have it cut short before you begin treatment.
- Try using hair products specially designed to cover bald spots and thinning areas of your hair .
Do not use the following things on your hair during treatment. They can be too harsh or pull on your hair.
- Hair spray, creams or oils, hair dye, bleach, relaxers, or permanents
- Clips, barrettes, bobby pins, pony tail holders, or scrunchies
- Hair dryers, curlers, curling irons, hot rollers, or a hair straightener
- Rubber bathing or swimming caps
Also, dont put your hair in braids, corn rows, or pony tails.
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Can Breast Cancer Treatment Cause Permanent Hair Loss
Hair loss caused by chemotherapy is almost always temporary so hair will usually start to grow back once your treatment is over. Some people find that it starts to grow back before they have completed all their chemotherapy.
There is some evidence that chemotherapy may result in prolonged or permanent hair loss, particularly with taxane drugs . Permanent hair loss is described as incomplete regrowth of hair six months or more after completing treatment.
At the moment there is no definite evidence to say how often this happens, which may mean that this possible side effect is not included in written information given to patients undergoing chemotherapy.
As hair loss is common in both people with cancer and in the general population, its often difficult to be sure whether problems with hair regrowth are due to treatment, genetics or other factors such as extreme stress or medical conditions, or a combination of these things.
After radiotherapy, any hair that you lost from the treated area will usually grow back. You may find that the regrowth is patchy and it can take several months to grow back completely. Its also possible that the hair may not grow back at all. This will depend on the dose of radiotherapy and the number of treatments youve had.
Once you have finished taking hormone therapy, your hair should return to how it was before treatment. However, this may take some time and for some may not fully return to the same thickness.
How Much Does Scalp Cooling Cost
The cost of scalp cooling depends on the type of scalp cooling system you use and the number of treatments you need. Most insurance companies dont cover the cost of scalp cooling at this time.
For information on the cost of frozen cooling caps, contact the company or look on their website.
If you use the Paxman scalp cooling system, you will be charged directly by Paxman for your cap and treatments. Pricing depends on how many treatments you need but can be as much as $2,200. For more information, visit the Paxman website at www.coldcap.com.
You will also be charged a facilities fee by MSK each time you use the cooling machines. This is about $65 per treatment and isnt usually covered by insurance.
If you have any questions about cost, call Patient Billing Services at .
Theres some financial support available for scalp cooling from an organization called Hair to Stay. For more information, visit their website at www.hairtostay.org.
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How Does Chemotherapy Affect Hair Loss
Chemotherapy may cause hair loss all over your body not just on your scalp. Sometimes your eyelash, eyebrow, armpit, pubic and other body hair also falls out. Some chemotherapy drugs are more likely than others to cause hair loss, and different doses can cause anything from a mere thinning to complete baldness.
/ When Will My Hair Start To Grow Back After Chemotherapy
Your hair will start to grow back after your chemotherapy treatment. Some people will notice immediate growth, and in other cases it might take a month or two. But it is equally possible for your hair to start growing back during your treatment. This usually happens just before or during your last chemo treatment. Its also worth remembering that it is a myth that wearing a wig, hats or scarves after chemo prevents your hair from growing back. Your hair will grow back just as quickly with or without headwear. Its up to you to decide when you feel your new hair is long enough to start walking around without a wig or a headscarf.
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Cutting Hair Off Prior To Or During Hair Loss Due To Chemotherapy
In our section about the Hair growth cycle, we understand that the hair root sits underneath the skin surface. This is where the three phases of the growth cycle occur with each and every individual hair. Therefore cutting hair short prior to or during hair loss cannot affect the hair growth function that takes place underneath the skin. If cutting hair short is something you decide to do we recommend that you avoid shaving with a bare razor. This is simply due to the possibility of infection if you cut yourself and not to do with affecting hair re-growth. Do use clean clippers/scissors and take a look at our section Cutting hair before hair loss.You can also read more in-depth information in our New hair growth section.