Cancer treatment comes with some pretty difficult side effects. Physical pain, profound fatigue, and debilitating digestive issues are par for the course, but for some cancer patients, chemo and radiation-induced hair loss can be one of the most distressing treatment side effects to deal with because our hair is a big part of our image and self-identity. Hair loss is a visible outward sign that your life is being changed by cancer, and it can leave you feeling vulnerable, exposed, and can lead to anger or depression. It helps make chemo and radiation-induced hair loss a little easier to cope with when you understand what causes it, how long it lasts, and ways to minimize its impact on your life.
What Causes Hair Loss Induced By Cancer Treatments? Cancer cells divide rapidly, more rapidly than most other cells in the body. So chemotherapy drugs target rapidly dividing cells in order to kill cancer. But there are some other cells in the body such as the lining of the mouth and stomach and the hair follicles that are very fast-growing as well. These cells also suffer the effects of chemo leading to all of the chemo-related side effects, including hair loss. Radiation can cause direct local damage to the hair follicles resulting in hair loss in the treatment area. Hair loss might not happen immediately, but usually starts within two weeks and progresses over the next couple of months. Radiation-induced hair loss can happen up to three weeks following the first treatment. Hair loss from either treatment can continue throughout the course of treatment and even a few weeks after treatments are completed.
Does Everyone Lose Their Hair During Chemo and Radiation Therapy? Medical hair loss affects everyone differently. Two people taking the same treatments may have very different side effects. One person might lose their hair and the other might not. Hair might become thin, dry, and brittle but not fall out completely. Hair loss could be gradual or happen quickly falling out in large clumps. But the good news is that most chemo and radiation-induced hair loss is temporary and should start to regrow within about three months of the last dose of chemo or within three to six months of completing radiation therapy, though it can sometimes be a different color or texture at first. Ways To Cope With Cancer-Related Hair Loss Here are some tips to help you cope with cancer-related hair loss when undergoing chemo and/or radiation treatments.
Allow yourself time to process and accept it. It’s okay to be upset about losing your hair. Give yourself time to adjust and start to feel good about yourself again.
Remember, your hair does not define you. You may not quite recognize yourself when you look in the mirror, but this is only a temporary outward change. You’re still you on the inside.
Make preparations before beginning treatments. Speak with a doctor about what to expect, seek out a stylist who’s familiar with medical hair loss, and schedule a consultation with a hair loss expert to formulate a plan to deal with hair loss if it occurs.
Choose a head covering. Your scalp may become very sensitive and will need protection. Deciding ahead of time whether you will wear a head covering or a wig or hairpiece. This gives you the opportunity to have it already on hand when it’s needed.
Cut your hair before you begin treatment. It’s much less startling when shorter hair starts to fall out, and it may help you to better cope if you make the transition to shorter hair by choice before you start to lose it.
Be gentle on your hair and protect it. Hair that isn’t lost as well as new growth may be very delicate and brittle. Wear a hair net at night and switch to a satin pillowcase to protect it from friction damage while you sleep. Use a soft bristle brush and limited amounts of mild, gentle shampoo. Do not rub, but pat hair dry with a very soft towel and avoid using barrettes, clips, and hair ties that can damage delicate strands.
Avoid scalp irritants. Your scalp may become dry and itchy and need special care and extra moisturization during treatment. Heat styling and chemicals from hair color, perms, and styling products may further irritate your scalp and aggravate hair loss, so avoid those things as much as possible.
Pamper yourself and emphasize your other assets. Do something special just for you to take your mind off of your problems for a while. Take a walk, see a new movie, or give yourself a spa day for a mani-pedi and facial. Get a new outfit that makes you feel good about yourself and invest in some new eye makeup. Choose brow pencils and eyeliner in your natural color and consider some premium false lashes to give yourself a sense of normalcy when you look in the mirror.
When treatment is complete, there are hair loss treatments that may help you grow your hair back faster or manage bald spots or hair thinner than it used to be. Topical treatments like HRI Advanced 5 Topical Minoxidil won’t prevent the loss but could help hair grow faster after treatments are complete. Those receiving laser therapy following chemo have found their hair regrowing up to three months faster and with more normal characteristics. PRP treatments have proven successful for some still experiencing stubbornly delayed regrowth several months post-treatment, and scalp micropigmentation and hair transplants may be an option to fill in bald spots that remain long after cancer treatments are complete.
If you’d like to discuss hair loss treatment options to cope with your chemo and radiation-induced hair loss contact the caring hair loss experts at the Hair Restoration Institute. We will work with you to formulate a plan to manage your hair loss during cancer treatments and walk with you through regrowing your hair with hair loss treatments, if necessary, to help restore your hair after your chemo and radiation are complete. You can find us at 1201 West Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth, Texas, or call 817-854-HAIR (4247) for a discreet and complimentary consultation.