Chemotherapy & Hair loss

How to make the best of it

Your hair loss generally can’t be prevented or controlled, but it can be managed. Take the following steps throughout your treatment to minimize the frustration and anxiety associated with hair loss.

Before treatment

  • Be gentle to your hair. Get in the habit of being kind to your hair. Don’t bleach, color or perm your hair — this can weaken it. Air-dry your hair as much as possible and avoid heating devices such as curling irons and hot rollers. Strengthening your hair now might make it more likely to stay in your head a little longer during treatment.
  • Consider cutting your hair. Short hair tends to look fuller than long hair. So as your hair falls out, it won’t be as noticeable if you have short hair. Also, if you have long hair, going short might help you make a better transition to total hair loss.
  • Plan ahead for a head covering. Now is the time to start thinking about wigs, scarves or other head coverings. Whether you choose to wear a head covering to conceal your hair loss is up to you. But it’s easier to plan for it now rather than later. Ask your doctor to write a prescription for a wig, the cost of which may be covered by your health insurance.

After treatment

  • Continue gentle hair care. Your new hair growth will be especially fragile and vulnerable to the damage caused by styling products and heating devices. Hold off on coloring or bleaching your new hair for at least six months. Besides damaging new hair, processing could irritate your sensitive scalp.
  • Be patient. It’s likely that your hair will come back slowly and that it might not look normal right away. But growth takes time, and it also takes time to repair the damage caused by your cancer treatment.

Radiation therapy also can cause hair loss

Radiation therapy also attacks quickly growing cells in your body, but unlike chemotherapy, it affects only the specific area where treatment is concentrated. If you have radiation to your head, you’ll likely lose the hair on your head. Your hair usually begins growing back after your treatments end. But whether it grows back to its original thickness and fullness depends on your treatment. Different types of radiation and different doses will have different effects on your hair. Higher doses of radiation can cause permanent hair loss. Talk to your doctor about what dose you’ll be receiving so that you’ll know what to expect. Radiation therapy also affects your skin. The treatment area is likely to be red and may look sunburned or tanned. If your radiation treatment is to your head, it’s a good idea to cover your head with a protective hat or scarf because your skin will be sensitive to cold and sunlight. Wigs and other hairpieces might irritate your scalp.
© 1998-2008 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).

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