Hair loss due to Chemotherapy

Losing your hair

Hair loss due to chemotherapy affects different people in some surprisingly different ways. For some women with breast cancer, losing their crowning glory is one of the most horrifying aspects of the disease – worse, even, than the surgical removal of a breast. Other women view hair loss as a minor consideration in relation to all the other traumas that need to be faced following a breast cancer diagnosis. Some organize head-shaving parties before their chemo even starts, saying it gives them a sense of empowerment at a time when their lives seem out of control.

Not all chemotherapy treatments result in hair loss. Depending on the combination and dosage of drugs being used, you may find you experience nothing more than a slight thinning of your hair.

Patients who lose their hair normally find the problem starts about two weeks after receiving chemo. You might experience a gradual thinning of your hair or it might fall out in clumps when you brush or wash it. The reason for this unpleasant side effect is that the drugs attack normal cells responsible for hair growth along with the cancerous cells.

Eyelashes and eyebrows can also be affected along with the hair anywhere else on your body (“at least I didn’t have to wax my legs for a while” says one upbeat cancer patient determined to make the best of a bad situation). False eyelashes, eye liner and home tattoo kits can all come to your aid here so let your imagination soar beyond wigs!

Treating your hair

The good news is that many women say their hair grows back thicker and faster than ever once the chemotherapy cycle is finished. Some are startled to find themselves sprouting grey curls when they previously had dead straight, dark hair – but don’t forget that if you’ve been using dyes and tints for years you may not know what your true colour is anymore.

Some doctors don’t proffer an opinion on using hair dyes after chemotherapy whilst others advise against using them for several months following your treatment. Some hairdressers refuse to use chemical dyes on post-chemo patients out of fear that harmful chemicals could enter the system via the scalp. If this is something you’re concerned about you might want to opt for one of the many natural products – henna or vegetable tints – available on the Internet and in certain specialist health shops.

Your hair should start to grow back about three to four months after your chemotherapy finishes. In the meantime there’s a wide range of wigs, turbans, headscarves and bandanas to experiment with, many being offered by companies with a range of products specifically designed for chemo patients.

There’s been some degree of success with what’s known as the cold cap, or ice cap, which can help prevent total hair loss if used at the time chemo is administered. It works by cooling the cells of the hair root and restricting the flow of blood to them so these cells are less likely to be affected by the toxic drugs.

But it doesn’t work for all patients and some say the unpleasantness of the ice-cold cap on their scalps is worse than any other aspect of their chemo. Use of the cap also has the drawback of prolonging your stay in hospital (normally by at least a couple of hours).


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