The Bottom Line On Cancer And Hair Loss
We know that losing your hair is a hard thing to cope with, particularly during an even tougher experience like fighting cancer.
If we can leave you with two takeaways, its this:
First, for the largest majority of people, hair loss from cancer treatment is not permanent.
And since most of the hair loss experienced during cancer is from the treatment itself, you have a very, very small chance of not regrowing your hair.
The second thing we need to remind you: hair is not who you are. Losing your hair has the chance to sap your confidence and really undermine those recovery efforts. Dont let it.
Own it. Own the look, own the chance to try new hats dont let it own you.
We know that if youre currently in cancer treatment, you already have one or more healthcare professionals walking you through everything.
That said, if youre feeling anxious or depressed because of any issues related to cancer treatment, talk to someone.
Just because your body is getting all the attention doesnt mean your mind doesnt deserve some, too.
If youre feeling down, talk to an online therapy provider. Not ready to talk to someone? We have more resources for you.
Check out our Mental Health Guide for links to more stories and options for treatment.
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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.
Radioprotective Drugs For Reducing Side Effects
One way to reduce side effects is by using radioprotective drugs, but these are only used for certain types of radiation given to certain parts of the body. These drugs are given before radiation treatment to protect certain normal tissues in the treatment area. The one most commonly used today is amifostine. This drug may be used in people with head and neck cancer to reduce the mouth problems caused by radiation therapy.
Not all doctors agree on how these drugs should be used in radiation therapy. These drugs have their own side effects, too, so be sure you understand what to look for.
Will My Hair Fall Out All At Once
Not everyone who has treatment for lymphoma experiences hair loss. If you do, your hair usually begins to fall out within a couple of weeks of starting treatment. It usually starts at the top and sides of your head, above your ears. It might fall out gradually, in clumps, or quite quickly. You might notice hair on your pillow or clothes, in your hairbrush, or in the plug hole of your bath or shower. Speak to your medical team for information about what to expect based on the treatment you are having.
Chemotherapy And Hair Loss
Certain chemotherapy medicines used to treat breast cancer can cause the hair on your head to become thin or to fall out completely. Some chemotherapy medicines can also cause hair loss on other parts of your body, such as your eyebrows and eyelashes, pubic hair, and hair on your legs, arms, or underarms.
Whether you lose your hair and how much you lose depends on a variety of factors. This includes the type, combination, and dose of chemotherapy medicines you get, as well as other medical conditions , nutrition status, and stress. The timing of chemotherapy treatments also affects hair loss. Some types of chemotherapy are given weekly and in small doses, which may minimize hair loss. Other types of chemotherapy are scheduled every 3 to 4 weeks in higher doses and may be more likely to cause more hair loss.
Talk with your doctors before chemotherapy begins so you know what to expect in your individual situation. If you find out that you will be receiving chemotherapy medicines that are likely to cause hair loss, you may want to look into the possibility of using a scalp cooling system or manual cold caps during your infusion sessions to help limit the amount of hair you lose. Read more about preventing hair loss with Cold Caps and Scalp Cooling Systems.
Some of the chemotherapy medicines used to treat breast cancer that can cause hair loss are:
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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.
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.
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Chemo More Likely To Cause Hair Loss
Chemotherapy medications with the highest risk of causing hair loss in many people include:
- Alkylating agents:Cytoxan or Neosar , Ifex , Myleran or Busulfex , Thioplex .
- Antitumor antibiotics: Cosmegen , Adriamycin or Doxil , Idamycin
- Topoisomerase inhibitors: VePesid , Camptosar
- Antimicrotubule agents: Taxol , Taxotere , Ellence , Ixempra , Ellence , Marqibo or Vincasar , Alocrest or Navelbine
- Antimetabolites:Efudex , Gemzar
When Will My Hair Grow Back
Once you finish your treatments, your hair should begin to grow back. Hair regrowth can take 3 to 5 months. When your hair grows back, it may have a different texture or color. In rare cases, your hair wont grow back as fully as it did before.
There is a very small risk that your hair wont grow back after radiation therapy to your head.
Read Also: What To Do If You Have Thin Hair
Cosmetics And Camouflage Options
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.
Tips For Possible Complete Hair Loss
- Ask about a wig before you start treatment, so you can match the colour and texture of your real hair.
- If you are feeling adventurous, choose a wig for a whole new look why not try the colour and style you’ve always wanted!
- Think about having your hair gradually cut short before your treatment starts – this might help you get used to seeing yourself with less hair.
- Some people shave their hair off completely to avoid the distress of seeing their hair fall out.
- Wear a hair net at night so you won’t wake up with hair all over your pillow, which can be upsetting.
- Keep your head warm in cooler weather – some people wear a soft hat in bed.
- Rub in oil or moisturiser if your scalp feels dry and itchy, try unperfumed products such as Epaderm, Hydromol or Doublebase.
- Try a moisturising liquid instead of soap if your scalp is dry, for example aqueous cream, Oilatum or Diprobase.
- Protect your scalp by covering your head in the sun – your scalp is particularly sensitive to the sun.
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What Cancer Medicines Cause Hair Loss
Hair loss is a common side effect of some cancer medicines including certain chemotherapy and targeted therapy drugs. The likelihood and severity of hair loss is different for each medicine. Families should talk with their doctor or pharmacist to understand the risk of hair loss for the specific drug regimen prescribed.
|Medicines with High Risk of Hair Loss||Medicines with Moderate Risk of Hair Loss|
Visit the List of Medicines to view possible side effects for different drugs.
The risk of hair loss during chemotherapy depends on factors such as:
- Dose of chemotherapy Higher doses of chemotherapy increase risk of hair loss.
- Method or route of administration IV chemotherapy can have greater risk compared to medicines taken by mouth.
- Frequency of chemotherapy Patients who get chemo every 2-3 weeks may have more hair loss than with a weekly chemotherapy regimen.
- Whether chemotherapy is given as a single drug or in combination Combination chemotherapy often increases risk of hair loss.
- Other factors that may increase the risk of hair loss during chemotherapy include
- Previous treatment with chemotherapy
- Graft versus host disease
What Can I Do If Hair Loss Is Expected With My Radiation Therapy Treatment
Each person responds differently when learning that they may experience hair loss. There is no right or wrong response. What’s important is to do what you feel comfortable with, to do what is right for you. If you expect to lose the hair on your head during your cancer treatments, the following tips may be helpful:
- If your hair is long, cutting it shorter may help decrease the impact of your hair loss when it occurs.
- Some people find it easier to deal with hair loss by shaving their heads before hair loss occurs.
- Be sure to protect your head with a hat to prevent sun exposure on sunny days- and not just in the summer months! This is especially important for men who are less likely to wear a wig or turban/scarf.
- Use a soft-bristle brush and a gentle, pH-balanced shampoo.
- Don’t use hair dryers, hot rollers, or curling irons because they may damage your hair and make hair loss more severe.
- Don’t bleach or color your hair, and don’t get a permanent. All of these make your hair brittle and may cause your hair to fall out faster.
- Sleep on a satin pillowcase to decrease friction.
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Why Does Radiation Cause Hair Loss
Hair loss is one of several potential side effects of radiation therapy. Side effects from radiation vary from person to person, and not everyone who receives radiation will experience noticeable hair loss.
Like chemotherapy treatments, radiation therapy is meant to destroy cancerous cells, but it can also impact other healthy cells and structures in your body, like your hair follicles. Typically, hair loss is limited to the area being treated, so if youre receiving radiation therapy on an arm or leg, you wont lose the hair on your head.
That said, chemotherapy drugs are often given with radiation. So if chemo is part of your treatment regimen, you might experience chemotherapy-induced alopecia on your head and other parts of your body. Chemotherapy often results in temporary but complete hair loss.
What Causes Hair Loss In Cancer Patients
Chemotherapy targets cancer cells that divide rapidly. But some healthy cells in the body also divide rapidly, like those lining the mouth and stomach, and in the hair follicles. When cancer treatments, especially certain chemotherapy drugs, damage the healthy, fast-growing cells responsible for hair growth, alopecia may result. Radiation therapy may also cause hair loss in the specific area of the body being treated.
Although hair loss does not always happen right away, it usually begins within two weeks of starting chemotherapy treatment and progresses over the following two months. Hair loss in the area being treated with radiation treatment usually begins up to three weeks after the first treatment. Hair loss may continue throughout treatment and up to a few weeks afterward.
Hair loss may occur on the head and/or elsewhere on the body, including the face , hair on the arms, underarms and legs, and pubic hair.
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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 breast, women should try to go without wearing a bra whenever they can. 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