Cancer treatment and hair loss

Hair loss is one of the most well known side effects of cancer treatment. The extent of a patient’s hair loss can range from mild thinning, or patches to total hair loss. Chemotherapy is the treatment most likely to cause hair loss, but some other cancer drugs can also result in the hair thinning. It will depend on the type of drugs the patient is taking, the combination of drugs, the dose and the patient’s own particular sensitivity to the drug.

We know that it can be very upsetting if your hair falls out during cancer treatment. You may feel uncomfortable about how you look and worry about the way people will react to you. Family and friends may be upset when they see you and find it hard not to show this, which can be incredibly difficult and emotional for patients to deal with.

It is possible to explore hair loss solutions before treatment starts to help you prepare with the practical and emotional effects of losing your hair. In this week’s blog we will look at some commonly asked questions and how Hair Solved may be able to help you find a hair loss solution that works for you.

Will chemotherapy make my hair fall out?

Not all types of chemotherapy cause total hair loss and some don’t cause any at all. Some chemo drugs only cause slight thinning which may not be so noticeable. Hair loss is usually gradual and if your hair is going to fall out it tends to start 2 – 3 weeks after treatment has started.

For most patients their hair will grow back once the chemotherapy treatment has finished. It is rare for hair not to grow back and this only tends to happen when there have been very high doses of certain cancer drugs. Some hormone therapies can cause hair thinning but this is usually quite mild, and thinning slows down within the first year of treatment.

It is important to talk to your doctor or specialist nurse, who will help you understand whether the treatment and drugs you have been prescribed are likely to cause hair loss. After speaking to your doctor or nurse about your treatment you can then contact a hair loss expert who will be able to advise on a hair loss solution that is right for you.

Will my hair grow back?

Your hair should start to grow back once the course of treatment is completed, this can sometimes take a little longer if you have had a very high dose of a particular chemo drug. When your hair grows back it may well be softer than it was before, and it is not uncommon for it to grow back curly or a different colour. Often a patient’s hair grows back within six months of treatment finishing. If you have had hormone therapy, hair should start to thicken within a few weeks of completing treatment.

Is there anything practical I can do to cope with chemo related hair loss?

Talk about your worries

You may feel your confidence is affected by hair loss and this can lead to anxiety and depression. You may feel that hair loss is a visible reminder of cancer. Most people find they can talk to family and friends about their hair loss whilst some people would rather talk to a cancer support specialist or a hair loss specialist. You can find a cancer support specialist by visiting www.macmillan.org.uk

If you would like to talk to one of our trained hair loss specialists please do get in touch with us.

Make a plan

Try to make a plan before your treatment starts, perhaps an appointment with your hairdresser to talk about having your hair cut shorter. Having your hair trimmed is a good idea as seeing yourself with less hair can help you take control and be more prepared. Or talk to a hair loss specialist about systems that are available to minimise the visibility of hair loss. A skilled hair thinning expert can create a wig or devise a method (like the Enhancer System) before your hair loss becomes noticeable.

During treatment

Wear a new or cotton cap at night so your hair doesn’t come off on your pillow as this can be very upsetting and lead to more anxiety.

Remember to protect your scalp from the sun.

Take care of your hair by using a gentle shampoo, avoid over processing with perms and colours, use a soft brush and avoid straighteners, curlers and hair dryers. Pat your hair dry and if your scalp if flaky use an oil or conditioner because your scalp is dry and never use a dandruff shampoo!

Can I do anything to minimise hair loss during my cancer treatment?

You can talk to your doctor or nurse specialist about a cold cap that can be worn during treatments. It lowers the temperature of the scalp and reduces the blood flow so the amount of the chemo drug reaching your hair follicles is reduced. Because of this the hair is less likely to die and fall out.

Sadly, cold caps only work on certain drugs and they don’t work for everyone so it is possible you may still lose your hair. They also can’t be used if you have certain types of cancer or if your chemo is delivered continuously through a pump or if you are taking chemo tablets.

We would always recommend talking to your doctor to find out if this would be suitable for you.

To find out more about cancer and hair loss the following websites are very helpful:

https://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/coping/changes-to-appearance-and-body-image

https://hair-solved.com/advice/types-of-hair-loss/chemotherapy-related-hair-loss/

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chemotherapy/cancer-and-hair-loss/

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