Perhaps the most well-known side effect of cancer treatment is hair loss. Chemotherapy in particular is most associated with this. Complete hair loss is very rare with other cancer treatments but some drugs can cause hair thinning, depending on not just the type of drug but the amount taken and the patient’s own sensitivity to it, as well is their previous drug treatments. It’s not possible to know in advance who will be affected or to what extent.
Most people think chemotherapy will always cause hair loss but some types of chemotherapy drugs cause none at all. Other types, on the other hand, may cause loss even to eyelashes, eyebrows, underarm, leg, and, in some cases, pubic hair. If it does happen however, it is typically gradual, only beginning two to three weeks after the treatment starts. Some hormone therapies or biological therapies can cause hair thinning though this is usually quite mild and often not even noticeable. However, within the first year of starting treatment it tends to slow down or stop completely. After chemotherapy, it could be several months and your hair is likely to be softer, but it will likely grow back. That is unless you have taken a very high dose of particular drugs. This may take several months and your hair will likely be softer. It could return a different colour and curlier than before but could still grow back at the same rate as before. Within four to six months after the end of your treatment, you should expect to have a good head of hair again. If you experience hair thinning from another cancer therapy, such as hormone therapy or biological therapy, it should thicken again within a few weeks of completing the treatment but it may be a few months before you notice any difference.
Before you begin treatment, ask about wigs. You may want to recreate your natural hair or try a whole new look. You may also consider cutting your hair short before starting your treatment to get used to seeing yourself with less hair. Some people even shave their heads completely to avoid any distress from seeing their hair fall out. At night, you may consider wearing a hairnet to prevent it from falling all over your pillow. Keep in mind that without your hair, your head and scalp will be vulnerable to the elements so remember to cover it from either the cold or the sun. If you experience hair thinning, use gentler hair products including baby shampoos and avoid both perms which can damage your hair, and colours, which may not take well. Use a soft baby brush and comb your hair gently. Use oil or moisturiser rather than dandruff shampoo and finally, avoid hair dryers, curling tongs and curlers. Instead “pat your hair dry.”
For more information, visit cancerresearchuk.org