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Hairloss and Chemotherapy

Why Hair Loss Occurs, Can It Be Prevented, and What To Do About It?


Updated May 30, 2014

Hair loss is one of the most emotionally devastating side effects of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can affect the hair or your head, facial hair, pubic hair and body hair. This includes eyelashes and eyebrows, also.

Why do so many people suffer from hair loss?

Hair loss occurs because chemotherapy can sometimes damage healthy cells. It is so common because hair follicle cells multiply very quickly like cancer cells and chemotherapy drugs have difficulty in discerning the difference.

Will I lose all of my hair?

There is no way to tell if someone will lose their hair during chemotherapy. Some people do not lose any at all. Some only suffer from thinning of the hair. However, there are many people who do lose all of their hair.

Hair loss all depends on the medications you are taking, how frequent dosages and how aggressive your treatment is.

Can I do anything to prevent it?

Unfortunately, there is no prevention or medication to combat hair loss during chemotherapy treatment.

Many people try to use use over-the-counter hair growth shampoos, like Rogaine. They do not have any effect whatsoever.

The good news is that your hair will grow back. It may grow back during treatment, but usually regrowth begins in about 6 to 8 weeks after treatment ends.

Coping With Hair Loss

Hair loss can be devastating. Many patients feel like they can't go out in public, or that they will embarrass their family members. It's completely normal to feel this way. But, you can do many things to make your hair loss more acceptable and easier to cope with.

  • Purchase a wig prior to treatment that matches your hair color. This way, you will have one ready in case you do experience hair loss. Hair usually falls out in clumps during chemo, not evenly.

    If you have ever wanted to experiment with different hair colors, now is the time to do so. Have fun with the different looks you can create with a hairpiece.

  • Cut your hair short. Short hair is easier to maintain and allows wigs to fit more comfortably. Plus, it appears fuller. Some people choose to shave their heads right when hair loss begins. Many feel it is less devastating to lose it all at once, than a little bit at a time.

  • Scarves, hats and turbans are becoming more fashionable, even for people without cancer. Many chemo patients use scarves or hats to cover their heads. They come in a variety of styles and can be tied many ways for different looks.

Hair may be different when it begins to grow back

Some people find their hair to dye a different color, texture, or curl. I have known people who had blonde, straight hair prior to chemo, and after, it grew back black and very curly.

Hair Care Tips During Chemotherapy

Tips for maintaining hair during chemotherapy, whether you have very thin hair, or haven't lost any at all.

  • Do not color or get a perm during chemotherapy. If you haven't experienced hair loss, remember that chemo can still affect follicles and the outcome might not be what you were looking for.With perms, not all strands may curl, and with hair color, not all strands may color.

  • Use a gentle shampoo, like baby shampoo and mild conditioner, every 3 to 5 days to keep hair healthy looking.

  • Rinse hair thoroughly and pat dry. Do not use blow dryers, as they are very damaging to the hair.

  • Wear a scarf or hat when outdoors to prevent sunburn and heat loss.

Coping With Hair Loss

Coping with hair loss can be difficult. We often associate our hair with physical beauty. Without it, its hard to feel attractive.

Wigs and hairpieces can make a big difference. Many look so natural, no one will recognize you are wearing a wig. Have fun exploring different looks with wigs.

Have comfort in knowing that your hair will grow back. Many times, it will grow back in better condition than what it was prior to treatment. I like to call this "Chemotherapy's Compensation Policy."
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