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Cancer Hair Loss

Understanding Cancer and Chemotherapy-Related Hair Loss

If you’re fighting cancer, it is probably one of the greatest fights of your life. You’ve probably already learned you’re tougher than you thought. Many people who receive cancer-related treatments experience a range of side effects. Hair loss is one of the most common, yet one of the most emotionally upsetting, side effects of cancer treatment and medications. If you’re experiencing cancer-related hair loss, you’re not alone. You have many options available.

Why Does Your Hair Fall Out From Cancer Treatment?

First, it’s important to understand some things about your hair, itself. Hair, like fingernails, is constantly growing. When you’re young and healthy, old hairs fall out and are replaced by new strands. When you’re undergoing cancer treatment, you may lose some or all of your hairs. Some people undergoing chemo may lose some or all of their hair. Usually the hair will fall out in clumps. You may see them in the drain of the tub or they may fall out as you’re grooming your hair. You may wake up some mornings to a clump of hair on your pillow.

Different types of cancer treatment cause different types of hair loss. Some cancer drugs will cause alopecia, a condition where round clumps of hair fall out of your scalp. Radiation therapy in the head will often cause scalp hair loss or even complete baldness. Sometimes the even hair grows back in a different pattern than before when the cause of hair loss is radiation.

Who Experiences Cancer-Related Hair Loss?

Research shows that nearly 60% of cancer patients will experience chemotherapy-related hair loss. Alopecia can happen to both men and women. The hair is lost when chemotherapy-related drugs damage the follicles, causing your hair to fall out before its normal time in the cycle. The new hair that will replace that hair usually isn’t ready to emerge. Unfortunately, as with many drug side effects, there is no way to predict which patient will be a candidate for losing hair. You may experience hair loss only on your scalp, or it may affect many areas of your body, such as your eyebrows, eyelashes, or pubic region.

Doctors will tell you that if you’re going to lose hair, you’ll start losing it in the first few weeks of treatment. Your scalp may feel sensitive to shampooing, combing, or brushing. The worst of your hair loss may be in your second to third month of treatment.

What Should I Do About My Hair Loss?

If you’re experiencing cancer treatment related baldness or hair loss, you may be upset or worried that your hair may not grow back. In most cases, your hair will begin to grow back once you’ve ended your course of treatment. Many women and men who experience cancer-related hair loss will find different ways to cope with it. You may feel “naked” without your hair or you may feel most comfortable shaving your head bald and finding a head wrap or hat to wear when you go out in the sun.

If you experience partial hair loss, or thinning hair, you may want to add extensions or a stylish hairpiece. Extensions are available in a variety of styles, and colors. You can get clip-in extensions made from real human hair, or you can try synthetic hair. Hairpieces can include bangs, clip-on ponytails and a wide variety of other styles.  Like many aspects of cancer treatment and chemotherapy, the decision of how to handle your hair loss is a highly personal one. If you choose a wig, you may want to experiment with different looks or styles. Choosing a wig or hairpiece can be a lot of fun; just remember the hair loss is temporary. Your hair will grow back. Until then, have fun experimenting with new looks. If you’re unsure about your options, and how you’ll look in a wig, grab a member of your support network to help you shop around.