One possible side effect of cancer and one that is often feared by patients — especially women — is hair loss. Not every cancer treatment will cause hair loss, but if you do there are some cancer treatment tips you can use to deal with hair loss. Your cancer care team will know if your specific treatment plan has a known side effect of hair loss. It's most common with some chemotherapies but could also be experienced by taking certain cancer medications or having radiation therapy administered directly at your head. During some of these treatments, there can be damage done to healthy cells that help grow hair. Hair loss can affect different areas throughout the body including the head, face, arms, underarms, legs, and pubic area.
Not all patients experience hair loss in the same way, even when they are undergoing the same kind of cancer treatment. For some, hair may slowly thin over time, but for others, it may come out more rapidly in clumps.
Fortunately, hair loss is usually temporary and will typically grow back after your cancer treatment is complete. However, it is not uncommon for the color and texture of the hair to be slightly different when it first begins to grow back.
Talking with your cancer care team regarding hair loss may help you cope better with this side effect. It may also help to talk about your feelings with family and friends or even a counselor.
One way you can gain some control over the situation is by wearing a wig or hairpiece. If you choose to do this, getting your wig prior to treatment makes it easier to match your natural hair color, style, and texture. If possible, have your wig or hairpiece fitted properly at the shop to avoid scalp irritation. You may also want to consider buying two wigs -- one for everyday wear and another for special occasions. Your cancer care team can direct you on where to find wig shops in your area.
For some patients, wearing hats or scarves is a better alternative for them. Some people even prefer to leave their head uncovered.
Hair often grows back within 2 to 6 months after treatment has ended. Some patients may notice that their hair is different than it was prior to cancer treatment (curlier, straighter, different color). In time, it may go back to how it was before. If you received a very high dose of radiation, your hair may grow back thinner or not at all on the part of your body that received treatment.
As your hair grows back after you complete your cancer treatments, continue to be gentle with it. Avoid too much brushing, curling, and blow drying. You may not want to wash your hair as frequently until it has fully returned.
Talk with your cancer care team if you have any additional questions regarding hair loss.