Dealing with the loss of one’s hair can be one of the most difficult struggles to overcome during cancer treatment. According to Marisa Weiss M.D., a breast radiation oncologist in Philadelphia, PA, “There are studies that show that for many women, losing their hair is worse than losing a breast. That's because you can conceal the loss of a breast, but hair loss is so obvious and apparent.” (breastcancer.org)
Why does hair loss happen?
Chemotherapy acts by interfering with the rapid growth of cancer cells. However, other cells in the body are also affected, as the drugs cannot tell the difference between healthy and non-healthy cells.
Hair loss and stunted nail growth are common and harm may also occur to other cells in the body such as in the mouth or intestines. Hair loss may be gradual or may happen in large amounts, which can be rather startling if the person is unprepared.
Not all chemotherapy drugs cause total hair loss, some only cause the hair to thin or may not cause any loss. Some chemotherapy drugs may only cause scalp hair loss while others affect pubic, eyelash, eyebrow or other hair on the body.
What can you do to prepare?
1. Try on and purchase a wig before you start chemotherapy. This will give you a chance to find one to match your current hair color and get used to how you will look when you wear it.
To find resources for wigs, search by zip code at your local chapter of the American Cancer Society at http://www.cancer.org/treatment/supportprogramsservices/app/resource-sea... Select Prostheses or Related Accessories
2. Consider cutting your hair very short or shaving it as hair loss begins. This may help avoid feeling distressed as hair comes out in large or uneven amounts.
3. Look for sources of other head covers. Sometimes you may want alternatives to a wig and perhaps a head cover to wear at night to keep warm. See my article for ideas of where to purchase them. https://www.empowher.com/hair-loss/content/hair-loss-cancer-alternatives...
4. If you want to try and keep your hair during chemotherapy, there is evidence that cooling your scalp during sessions may prevent the loss. See my article about cooling to learn more. https://www.empowher.com/hair-loss/content/cold-cap-therapy-during-chemo...
5. See a cosmetologist to assist in how best to draw in eyebrows or use eyeliner if hair is also lost in those areas. Other ideas may also be given to balance the look of your face.
Contact Look Good Feel Better at http://lookgoodfeelbetter.org/ to find an experienced cosmetologist in treating cancer patients. Your local American Cancer Society may also have resources.
Hair re-growth should begin two to three weeks after the last treatment, however “adequate hair growth may take six months to one year” according to The American Hair loss council. Returning hair may not be the same texture or even the same color at first but then may return to normal later. Re-growth of eyelash, eyebrow and pubic hair rates are variable in each person.
Preplanning for such a difficult loss will hopefully lessen some of the emotional stress as you go through this challenging experience.
Why and How Hair Loss Happens. Breast Cancer.org. Web, 3 Feb. 2012.
Chemotherapy Related Hair Loss. American Hair Loss Council. Web, 3 Feb. 2012.
Hair Loss and Chemotherapy. About.com: Cancer. Web, 3 Feb. 2012.
Cold Caps May Prevent Chemotherapy Hair Loss. Everyday Health. Web, 3 Feb. 2012.
Chemotherapy and hair loss: What to expect during treatment. Mayoclinc.com. Web, 3 Feb. 2012.
When Will Your Hair Grow Back? Breast Cancer.org. Web, 3 Feb. 2012. http://www.breastcancer.org/tips/hair_skin_nails/regrowth.jsp
American Cancer Society. Find Support & Treatment. Web, 3 Feb. 2012.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles
Edited by Jody Smith