Chemotherapy, a medication used to attack and kill malignant cancer cells, is an effective method to treat cancer. However, these drugs are very powerful and usually cause some undesirable side effects, including nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, low blood counts, and sore throat & mouth. These side effects do not occur all at once and can appear in varying degrees at different times within the treatment cycles. Here is some helpful information regarding hair loss following your chemotherapy treatment at Cancer Care Northwest.
Since cancer killing drugs target all rapidly dividing cells in your body, you may experience some damage to non-cancer cells that also rapidly divide such as those in your bone marrow, skin, mouth, stomach, intestines, and hair. As your hair follicles react to the anticancer drugs, they begin to break off at or near the skin and scalp. This may occur anywhere on your body where you have hair, not just your head. Sometimes hair loss may mean only severe thinning, other times it may mean total baldness, but each patient reacts differently to the anticancer drugs.
Hair loss usually begins within a few days after treatment, but sometimes it may be delayed for weeks following treatment. It is common for hair loss to reach its peak in one to two months, but it will grow back. Cutting your hair short before you begin treatment is a good way to adjust to your changing appearance.
You may not realize it, but frequent touching, brushing, handling, or playing with your hair can cause more hair loss. There are several things you can do to lessen your hair loss. To minimize tangling and offer more gentle care for your hair, use mild shampoos with built-in conditioner, low heat when drying your hair, satin pillowcases, and soft hair brushes.
Harsh chemicals and unkind treatment of your hair can cause further damage so avoid hair dyes, permanents, brush rollers and playing with or twisting your hair. Remember, the more you touch your hair, the more hair you are likely to lose.
It may be helpful to prepare for hair loss ahead of time. If you decide you want to cover your head, you might want to consider obtaining a stylish hairpiece. Your local chapter of the American Cancer Society maintains a free hairpiece bank, and they can help you match your own hair color and style before you begin treatment. If you wish to purchase a hairpiece from another source it may be covered by your health insurance, and it is tax deductible.
If a hairpiece is not your choice, you may decide to wear a scarf, hat or turban. Practicing wearing a hairpiece, scarf, hat or turban before treatment can help you make the adjustment and can help others get used to seeing you with a different style as well. Whichever you choose, it’s important to remember the new look is only a temporary change.
Hair usually grows back at the rate of ½ inch per month and begins to reappear within the first month after treatment is complete. When hair grows back, it may have a slightly different color and texture than what you had before treatment. Sometimes people with straight hair will end up with naturally curly hair. Many times your hair will return to normal after treatment, however, if it looks different you are still you; you just have a different hairstyle.
Hair loss is an emotional adjustment, and it’s difficult to accept. As tough as it seems, talking about your feelings will help you feel better and help you cope with the changes in your body. If you begin to feel angry, depressed, or upset, talk to your CCNW doctor or nurse about it. Talking to someone who understands will help you keep a positive attitude.
*Other cosmetic suggestions for women:
Be sure to ask your CCNW doctor or nurse if you have any questions or concerns. Side effects from your cancer treatment can be successfully managed with open communication between you and your CCNW oncologist. Because you and CCNW are a team — we are here for you and want to help in any way we can.