Hair is an integral part of us. Whether men or women, everyone values their precious strands of hair. Hair can not only make your face look pretty but partly defines who you are. You may not feel this way, but losing them can make a huge difference. Chemotherapy can cause hair loss. In fact, hair loss is a common side effect of chemo. Hair loss is one of the most feared side effects of being diagnosed with cancer, both in men and women.
Many people consider hair loss a symbol of having cancer. If you choose to keep your disease a secret, you may be more afraid of this side effect than other complications of chemotherapy itself. You can talk to your chemotherapy and oncologist to find possible ways to cope with this side effect of chemo.
Why do you have hair loss?
Drugs used in chemotherapy are harsh and even toxic. They target fast-growing cancer cells. But they can also harm the healthy cells in our body, like cells in the roots of your hair.
Hair loss is not only limited to the scalp but can occur throughout the body. You can even lose eyelashes, eyebrows, armpits, pubic hair, and other hair. While some chemo drugs cause more hair loss than others, some of them don’t cause any hair loss. Hair loss can be mere thinning to baldness.
So, consult your doctor, and find out what to expect from your chemo drug. Most of the time, chemotherapy-induced hair loss is temporary. The color and texture of the hair may differ temporarily, but you can expect the hair to recover 3 to 6 months after the completion of treatment.
What will happen during the treatment?
You may start to lose hair after 2-to 4 weeks after the treatment starts. Your hair might come out in clumps suddenly or may fall slowly. You will find hair in so many places like pillows, sinks, combs, etc. Your scalp might hurt.
Hair loss may happen throughout the treatment and even afterward too. The amount of hair loss depends on your chemo drugs. This can be distressing for you. You may feel that your looks have changed. Looking in the mirror will remind you of your journey and all the things you had to go through.
When will your hair recover?
After treatment, it may take many weeks for the hair to grow back to the way it was. Your hair after growing back may be a bit different. But this is usually temporary. The texture and color of new hair may vary. It may be more curly than before, or it may turn gray till the pigment-producing cells regrow.
How to manage hair loss?
No way can guarantee that your hair will not come off during or after chemotherapy. People have tried to come up with a way to prevent hair loss but none have been completely effective, such as:
Scalp Cooling Cap (Scalp Hypothermia): A tight cap cooled with a liquid may be placed on the head during the chemotherapy to slow blood flow to the scalp. This may help to reduce the effect of chemo on your hair. Studies have found that they work somewhat okay for most people who have tried them. However, this procedure also puts you at the risk of having cancer recurrence on your scalp. It is because the scalp does not receive the same dose of chemotherapy as other body parts. It has some side effects like headaches and chills.
Minoxidil (Rogaine): Minoxidil (a drug approved for hair loss), if applied to the scalp before and during chemo, does not prevent hair loss, but some studies have shown that it may accelerate hair growth. We need more research to prove its effectiveness in hair regrowth.
How to take care of your hair?
Your hair loss is generally not preventable or controllable, but it can be treated. During treatment, perform the following steps to minimise the frustration and anxiety associated with hair loss.
Be gentle on your hair: Do not bleach, dye, or perm your hair. Hair may become weak. Dry your hair as much as possible and avoid heating devices such as curling irons and heat rollers. If you strengthen your hair now, you are more likely to stay in your head for a little longer during treatment.
Consider cutting your hair: Short hair tends to look plump than long hair. Therefore, when the hair comes off, it is not so noticeable if the hair is short. Even if you have long hair, shortening can help you make a better transition to complete hair loss.
Plan with a hat on: Now let’s start thinking about wigs, scarves, and other hats. It’s up to you to wear a hat to hide your hair loss. But it’s easier to plan now than later. Ask your doctor to prescribe you a wig, the cost of which can be covered by your health insurance company.
When treatment is ongoing
Continue your gentle hair strategy: During the chemotherapy regimen for the rest of your hair. Use a soft brush. Wash your hair as many times as you need. Consider using a gentle shampoo.
Consider shaving your head: Some people report that the scalp feels itchy, sensitive, and inflamed during treatment and hair loss. By shaving your head, you can reduce irritation and relieve the embarrassment of hair loss.
Protect your scalp: If your head is exposed to the sun or cold air, protect it with sunscreen or a hat. Extreme cold and sunlight can easily irritate the scalp, as it can become sensitive during treatment. If you have no or little hair, you may feel cold, so a hat may be more comfortable.
Continue gentle hair care: Your new hair growth is especially fragile and vulnerable to damage from styling products and heating equipment. Wait for dyeing or bleaching until the new hair is strong. The treatment can hurt your new hair and irritate your sensitive scalp. Be patient. Hair may come back slowly and quickly become unhealthy. However, it takes time to grow and it takes time to repair the damage caused by cancer treatment.
Cover your head: Covering your head when you have hair loss is a purely personal decision. For many, hair is associated with personal identity and health, so they choose to maintain their appearance by wearing a wig. Others choose hats and scarves. In addition, some people choose not to cover their heads at all.
Ask your doctor or hospital social worker about the resources in your area that can help you find it.