Hair Regrowth After Chemotherapy

How Long It Takes to Grow Back and How It May Look Different

cancer survivor without hair
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Hair regrowth after chemotherapy is a common concern for cancer patients. In fact, hair loss can be a devastating side effect of chemotherapy. But the good news is that it's a usually temporary side effect. Learn more about how long it might take for your hair to grow back, how it may look and feel different when it does, and how to care for it. 

What Is Cancer?

Cancer can develop anywhere in the body.

It starts when cells grow out of control and crowd out normal cells. This makes it hard for the body to work the way that it should and causes problems in the part of the body where the cancer started.

Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body. For instance, cancer cells in the lung can travel to the bones and grow there, too. When cancer cells spread, it’s called metastasis. A cancer is named depending on where it started. For instance, when lung cancer spreads to the bones, it’s still called lung cancer. To doctors, the cancer cells in the bones look just like the ones from the lung. It’s not called bone cancer unless it started in the bones.

Some cancers grow and spread fast, while others grow more slowly. Cancers also respond to treatment in different ways. Some types of cancer are best treated with surgery, for example, while others respond better to chemotherapy (more on that below).

Often two or more treatments are used to get the best results.

What Is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is the use of any drug to treat any disease. But to most people, the word chemotherapy means drugs that are used, specifically, for cancer treatment. It’s often shortened to “chemo.”

Surgery and radiation therapy remove, kill, or damage cancer cells in a certain area of the body, but chemo can work throughout the whole body.

This means that chemo can kill cancer cells that have spread (metastasized) to parts of the body that may be far away from the original (primary) tumor.

Chemotherapy and Hair Loss

One of the most devastating side effects of chemotherapy is often hair loss. Cancer cells divide at a fast pace and so do hair follicle cells. Chemotherapy can't tell these two types of cells apart, so the drug tends to attack both kinds. 

The extent of the hair loss can vary widely, depending on which types of drugs are used and what dosages. Some people may experience mere thinning, while others may lose all of their hair.

This process tends to begin after a few treatments. The hair may fall out gradually or it may fall out in clumps. Some patients choose to shave their heads (and sometimes wear wigs or hats) so they don't have to watch it fall out. Any remaining hair might look dull or feel dry during chemotherapy.

Some patients lose more than just the hair on their heads—some lose hair all over their bodies.

Hair Regrowth After Chemotherapy

Luckily, hair loss is temporary for most people who undergo chemotherapy. How long it takes for the hair to grow back varies from person to person. Hair may start to grow back while you're still undergoing chemotherapy or after the treatment has ended.

Many people report seeing hair growth around four to six weeks after the end of treatment.

When hair does grow back, be prepared that it may be a different texture or possibly even a different color than it was before you started treatment. For example, if you had straight hair, it may grow back in curly. Some people also find that their hair grows in gray, and then a few months later, it returns to their natural color. 

As your hair grows, use a gentle shampoo and conditioner. Are you interested in dyeing or coloring your hair after chemotherapy, especially if your hair has become a color that you don't like?

For the first six months, you may want to hold off on having chemical processes like perms or hair coloring done, because your hair is still fragile and your scalp is still very sensitive. Using a hair dryer or curling/straightening iron may also cause damage. Talk to your oncologist and your dermatologist for more personalized advice on the topic.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerbasics/what-is-cancer 

"Hair Loss." American Cancer Society. 17 Mar 2007.

"How Do I Deal With Losing My Hair?" American Cancer Society. 17 Mar 2007.

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