1. Chemotherapy and hair loss: What to expect during treatment
Chemotherapy is a harsh, painful treatment for cancer patients that reduces the immune system and slows down your body’s ability to heal itself as its main objective is to kill cancer cells. As serious as it is, a most popular concern and question is about the chemo hair loss timeline.
To make matters worse, chemotherapy can damage healthy hair, leaving you with bald spots on your head or sides of your head that you have to shave off. And if the chemotherapy is coupled with radiation treatment, there is even more damage to the hair follicles that are responsible for producing hair.
Chemotherapy is a powerful treatment for cancer. It kills the cancer cells and also destroys many of the healthy ones as well.
The good news is that it works by destroying the cancerous cells, unfortunately, it also kills the surrounding healthy cells as well. Once your hair starts to fall out, unfortunately you may be in for some unpleasant side effects.
For many, hair loss is a symbol to the world that they have cancer and for some, the side effects of hair loss are harder to deal with than the actual chemo treatments. Hair loss affects about three out of every 100 patients, so it’s a serious problem.
You can minimize the impact on your hair by choosing an effective hair loss prevention product. Preparing yourself for the possibility of hair loss may help you cope with the side effect. Here we provide a timeline of what to expect during your treatment.
2. Why does chemotherapy cause hair loss?
Chemotherapy drugs are powerful medications that attack rapidly growing cancer cells. Unfortunately, these drugs don’t distinguish between cancerous and healthy cells, which includes your hair follicles. With 90% of your hair being in the rapid growth phase, it becomes an unfortunate casualty to the treatment.
3. Is Radiation Contributing to My Hair Loss, Too?
Radiation therapy also attacks quickly growing cells in your body, but unlike chemotherapy, it affects only the specific area where treatment is concentrated. If you have radiation to your head, you’ll likely lose the hair on your head. Usually, your hair will begin growing back after the end of your treatments.
Depending on your treatment determines whether it grows back to its original thickness and fullness. Different types and doses of radiation will have different effects on your hair. Higher doses of radiation can cause permanent hair loss. Discuss with your doctor about what dose you’ll be receiving so you’ll know what to expect.
Radiation therapy also affects your skin. The treatment area may be red and look sunburned or tanned. If your radiation treatment is to your head, it’s a good idea to cover your head with a protective hat or scarf because your skin will be sensitive to cold and sunlight. Wearing wigs and hairpieces might irritate your scalp, so consider those carefully and ask for a wig cap to help “insulate” your scalp from the wig itself.
4. What should you expect during the chemo hair loss timeline?
Hair usually begins falling out two to four weeks after you start treatment. It could fall out in clumps quickly or gradually. You’ll probably notice accumulations of loose hair in your brush and/or comb, on your pillow, in your shower drain, in your sink, and on your pillow. You may feel tenderness on your scalp. Your hair loss will continue throughout your treatment and up to a few weeks afterward. Whether your hair thins, or you become completely bald will depend on your treatment. Discuss with your doctor about your treatment to determine what to expect. Some good news–is that many people have reported that even though the hair loss continues a few weeks after the last treatment, simultaneously, the other follicles are doing their best to get back to the growing phase! That’s the time to pour on the nutrition and all good things for hair growth to coax those follicles back to hair growth production. (more later.)
People with cancer report hair loss as a distressing side effect of treatment. Each time you catch a glimpse of yourself in a mirror, your changed appearance is a reminder of your illness and everything you’ve experienced since your diagnosis. In addition to these side effects, cancer patients may experience feelings of depression and low self-esteem in relation to their appearance. This article will help you understand what the chemo hair loss timeline means and how it affects your life as a cancer patient, and to cope with the probable future of new hair growth.
5. When will your hair grow back?
It takes a lot of time and effort to grow back your hair after chemotherapy – both for you as a patient and for your family. We believe that chemo hair loss is one of the most important issues facing cancer patients today. It feels like an important issue no matter what kind of cancer you have, but it is especially important to cancer treatment survivors because over 60% of them experience some form of hair loss at some point in their lives due to their treatment.
As we intimated earlier, it may take several weeks after treatment for your hair to recover and begin growing again. When your hair starts to grow back, it will probably be slightly different from the hair you lost.
But the difference is usually temporary. Your new hair might have a different texture or color. It might be curlier than it was before, or it could be gray until the cells that control the pigment in your hair begin functioning again.
6. Can hair loss be prevented from chemo?
No treatment exists that can guarantee your hair won’t fall out during or after chemotherapy. Several treatments have been investigated as possible ways to prevent hair loss, including:
Baby your remaining hair.
Continue your gentle hair strategies throughout your chemotherapy treatment. Use a soft brush. Wash your hair only as often as necessary. Consider using a gentle shampoo with no sulfates or silicones.
Protect your scalp.
If your head is going to be exposed to the sun or to cold air, protect it with sunscreen or a head covering. Your scalp may be sensitive as you go through treatment, so extreme cold or sunshine can easily irritate it. Having no hair or having less hair can make you feel cold, so a head covering may make you more comfortable. Keep in mind a healthy scalp grows the best hair, so though the hair may be gone temporarily, your scalp will reward you later for a job well done!
Studies of scalp cooling caps and other forms of scalp hypothermia have found they work somewhat in the majority of people who have tried them. However, the procedure also results in a very small risk of cancer recurring in your scalp, as this area doesn’t receive the same dose of chemotherapy as the rest of your body. People undergoing scalp hypothermia report feeling uncomfortably cold and having headaches.
7. How to make the best of you Chemo Hair Loss Timeline
Your hair loss generally can’t be prevented or controlled, but it can be managed. Take the following steps throughout your treatment to minimize the frustration and anxiety associated with your chemo hair loss timeline.
- Be gentle to your hair. Get in the habit of being kind to your hair. Don’t bleach, color or perm your hair — this can weaken it. Air-dry your hair as much as possible and avoid heating devices such as curling irons and hot rollers. By strengthening your hair now might make it more likely to stay in your head a little longer during treatment.
- Consider cutting your hair. Short hair tends to look fuller than long hair. So as your hair falls out, it won’t be as noticeable if you have short hair. Also, if you have long hair, by going short, you may make a better transition to total hair loss.
- Plan for a head covering. Now is the time to start thinking about wigs, scarves or other head coverings. Whether you choose to wear a head covering to conceal your hair loss is up to you. But it’s easier to plan for it now rather than later. Ask your doctor to write a prescription for a wig, the cost of which may be covered by your health insurance.
- Baby your remaining hair. Continue your gentle hair strategies throughout your chemotherapy treatment. Use a soft brush. Wash your hair only as often as necessary. Consider using a gentle shampoo.
- Consider shaving your head. Some people report that their scalps feel itchy, sensitive and irritated during their treatments and while their hair is falling out. Shaving your head can reduce the irritation and save the embarrassment of shedding.
- Protect your scalp. If your head is going to be exposed to the sun or to cold air, protect it with sunscreen or a head covering. Your scalp may be sensitive as you go through treatment, so extreme cold or sunshine can easily irritate it. Having no hair or having less hair can make you feel cold, so a head covering may make you more comfortable.
- Continue gentle hair care. Your new hair growth will be especially fragile and vulnerable to the damage caused by styling products and heating devices. Hold off on coloring or bleaching your new hair until it grows stronger. Processing could damage your new hair and irritate your sensitive scalp.
- Be patient. It’s likely that your hair will come back slowly and that it might not look normal right away. But growth takes time, and it also takes time to repair the damage caused by your cancer treatment.
Covering your head as your hair falls out is a purely personal decision. For many people, hair is associated with personal identity and health, so they choose to maintain that look by wearing a wig. Others choose hats and scarves. Others choose not to cover their heads at all. Ask your doctor or a hospital social worker about resources in your area to help you find the best head covering for you. As emotional as all the process is, there will be days that you feel awesome. Those are the days you might want to have some fun with wigs, and outfits.
==>Did you ever dream of looking like Cher? Go to the wig shop and try on a long straight hair wig.
===>Did you love Tina Turner? Try on a voluminous 80’s Shag wig!
Have some fun! And remember, when you arrive at your normal or better-than-fabulous new self, you’ve always got some fun wigs in your show trunk for those fun parties!
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