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Hair Loss Due To Cancer Treatment

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Dr. Vijay Agarwal

Hair loss can be one of the most challenging side effects of cancer treatments to deal with for both men and women. Discuss with your doctor or nurse about your treatment plan and whether it may cause hair loss.

Many cancer treatments damage both cancer and normal cells, resulting in hair loss. This includes the cells responsible for hair growth.

Hair loss caused by cancer treatment is most often not permanent. It may affect all the hair on your body. Your hair regrows once therapy has been completed. The amount of hair loss depends on the type of cancer treatment, the dose of treatment, and how it is given. Hair may start falling out between seven to 21 days after you start your treatment if your treatment affects the hair.

In radiation, hair loss will only occur in the area where radiation is administered. Only if the radiation is given to the head will one lose hair on the head. Radiation given to other areas of the body will not cause hair loss in the head. There is a small chance that radiation will cause permanent hair thinning in some areas.

Some patients ask if there is anything they can do to avoid hair loss when undergoing chemotherapy. Generally, it is impossible to stop hair loss if you are taking a drug that causes hair loss. However, not all chemotherapy drugs result in hair loss. Some drugs may only cause minor hair loss or thinning. Hair loss caused by the chemotherapy is usually temporary and will regrow. The hair may regrow in a different colour or texture. This change could be temporary or permanent. Hair will start to grow once your treatment is over. It may take 6 to 12 months for the hair to regrow completely.

Ways to manage hair loss

Talk with your healthcare expert about ways to manage before and after hair loss:

  • Treat your hair gently: You might use a wide-tooth comb or a hairbrush with soft bristles. Avoid using hairdryers, irons, gels or clips that can irritate your scalp. Use a mild shampoo to wash or clean your hair. Wash it less frequently and be very gently.  Use a soft towel to dry your hair.

  • You have choices: Some people opt to cut their hair short when it begins to fall out to make it easier to manage. Others opt to shave their head. If you opt to shave your head, use an electric shaver so you won’t cut yourself. If you decide to buy a wig, do so while you still have hair so that you can match the colour to your own. If you find wigs to be hot and itchy, try wearing a soft and comfortable scarf or turban.

  • Protect and care for your scalp: Wear a hat or use sunscreen when you are outside. Choose a comfortable scarf or cap that you enjoy and that keeps your head warm. If your scalp itches or feels tender, using conditioners and lotions can help it feel better.

  • Talk about your feelings: Hair loss makes many people feel angry, depressed, or embarrassed. Sharing these feelings with someone who understands might be helpful. Some people find that talking with other people who have lost their hair due to cancer treatment is helpful. Talking openly and honestly with your children and other close family members can also help you all. Tell them that you expect to lose your hair during cancer treatment.

How to take care of your hair when it grows back

  • Be gentle: When your hair begins to regrow, you should be gentle with it. Avoid overbrushing, curling, and blow-drying your hair. You might not need to shampoo your hair as often.

  • After chemotherapy: After chemo treatment, hair usually grows back in 2 to 3 months. When your hair grows back, it will be very fine. Your new hair may be curlier or straighter than before, or even a different colour. In time, it may go back to how it was prior treatment.

  • After radiation therapy: After radiation treatment, hair usually grows back in 3 to 6 months. If you were exposed to a very high dose of radiation, your hair may grow back thinner or not at all on the part of your body that received radiation.

Cancer patients often lose their hair as a result of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, endocrine therapy, or radiation to the head. If you’ve lost your hair and you want to maintain your privacy at work, you might choose to wear a wig that looks as close as possible to your natural hair. If you’re not as concerned about privacy, you might wear a scarf or choose not to hide your hair loss.

Cancer Therapy India is an internationally recognized cancer treatment centre in Bangalore, India that offers state-of-the-art and comprehensive multidisciplinary care for all types of cancer. Its multidisciplinary team of highly qualified and experienced oncologists are dedicated to reaching the best possible outcomes for each patient.

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Dr. Vijay Agarwal

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