Hair Loss During Chemotherapy and Radiation Treatment

Do You Always Lose Your Hair in Treatment? What Can You Do?

woman with cancer choosing wig
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How do chemotherapy and radiation cause hair loss?:

Both chemotherapy and radiation cause hair loss by damaging hair follicles, which contain cells that make the hair grow. Chemotherapy drugs reach hair follicles all over the body through the blood. Radiation causes hair loss in the area where it is directed, so if your head is being irradiated your scalp hair will be affected.

Some chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss; some don't:

Chemotherapy drugs differ from each other in the way they act on cancer cells.

They also differ in the way they affect hair loss. Some drugs cause a lot of hair loss; others may cause none at all. Most of the drug combinations used in lymphoma contain at least one drug which causes hair loss. Thus, hair loss during chemotherapy for lymphomas is quite common.

Can I choose a drug that causes less hair fall?:

The idea may be tempting, but it is hardly practical. The main issue during treatment is to use the most effective combination of drugs. The choice of medicines should not be changed simply to reduce hair loss. An effective round of treatment may cause hair loss, but it will also reduce the need for additional rounds of treatment, with hair loss each time.

Can chemotherapy hair loss be prevented with a cold cap?

Some hospitals offer the use of a cold cap during chemotherapy treatments. It cools your scalp and reduces the blood supply, so less chemotherapy drug reaches your hair follicles, and this can result in less hair loss.

 Wearing a cold cap can be quite uncomfortable, but for some, the discomfort is worth it to keep more of their hair.

Cold caps have been used for many years in Europe, but they are just becoming more common in the United States. Systems are available for rental during treatment. Some have a cooling unit attached while others require chilling with dry ice or in a special freezer.

Some studies show they reduce half of the hair loss for over 60% of the people using them. The DigniCap Scalp Cooling System was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2015.

Tips on minimizing hair loss trauma:

  • Cut your hair into a shorter style before you undergo treatment.
  • Avoid using harsh chemicals and shampoo on your hair as these can cause the scalp to become dry and itchy.
  • Do not perm your hair for at least six months after your treatment.
  • Use a soft hairbrush to prevent irritating your scalp if it is tender.
  • Avoid nylon pillowcases as they can irritate the scalp. Use cotton instead.
  • Let your hair dry naturally as hairdryers and rollers can further damage brittle hair.

Hair grows back after treatment is complete:

Hair usually grows back at least partially after treatment is completed. It may take up to a year before the process is complete. A patient wait may be worthwhile.

Using wigs:

Wigs are very useful in camouflaging baldness. Modern wigs are well designed and rarely distinguishable from normal hair. Find out about local wig suppliers, and get fitted. Your hospital may help you find a supplier.