Hair Loss caused by Chemotherapy
Following is part of an article written by Mette H. Menotti of World Hair Institute. September 2008
Chemotherapy is extremely powerful and can cause anything from thinning hair on the scalp to losing hair all over the body. Chemotherapy attacks the growing cancer cells; unfortunately it will also attack other cells in your body including cells that make your hair grow. About 14 days after starting Chemotherapy treatment is when the experience of thinning hair or hair falling out will occur. This can happen gradually or more quickly with the loss of clumps of hair. The hair loss will continue throughout and continue till about a month after treatment. Whether your hair thins out or you go completely bald is determined by the kind and amount of your treatment.
You might feel that everybody notices your hair loss right away; but as a rule we need to lose approximately 50% of our hair before it become noticeable to others.
What causes hair loss during Chemotherapy and can it be prevented?
If you are one of the many who are facing cancer and are undergoing cancer treatment, the chances that you will lose your hair is significant. Although cancer specialists consider hair loss as an expected “side effect” it can come as a shock to the individual who is living with the hair loss.
Not everyone who develops a cancer will need chemotherapy. The choice of treatment will also vary with different types of cancer.
What kind of medication and the amount will determine if there will be loss of hair. You should talk to your doctor or other specialists who are involved in your treatment about what to expect.
Will the hair grow back after Chemotherapy?
As you need to recover from the Chemotherapy your hair does as well. Your hair usually starts growing back about a month to 6 weeks after the treatment is stopped. Hair in general grows about ¼ of an inch per month. The hair growing back might have a different texture than it did before treatment; straight hair can return curly or the opposite and the color of the hair can be dull or grey or different than before. This occurs because the cells are not completely controlled yet as for instance the pigment of your hair. This is a normal and temporary side effect caused by the Chemotherapy.
If the treatment you are going to receive is expected to create hair loss then you should know that there unfortunately is no known treatment that can prevent the hair loss caused by chemotherapy.
What is the difference between Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy?
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat an illness; radiotherapy is the use of radiation in treatment. Strictly speaking chemotherapy is the use of drugs in any illness but in common language we have come to associate it mainly with the drug treatment of cancer.
Radiotherapy is mainly, but not exclusively, used for cancer treatment and not everyone with cancer will need radiotherapy. Radiotherapy uses ionizing radiation to kill cancer cells. Radiation treatment is administered by machines that produce a beam of high energy x-rays. The beam is directed at the site of the cancer.
For some tumors radiotherapy may be given in the form of radioactive pellets or seeds placed close to or into the cancer.
While Chemotherapy can have an ‘all over influence’ on your body Radiotherapy usually affects only the concentrated area that is treated. Therefore it is likely that you will lose your hair if having Radiation to the scalp.
As with Chemotherapy your hair usually grows back after ending your treatment but different amounts of radiation creates different outcome of hair loss and higher doses can, in some cases, cause permanent hair loss. Talk to your doctor or other specialists who are involved in your treatment about what to expect.
Radiotherapy will likely affect the skin of the treated area. The skin of the particular area might become reddish or even look suntanned, and can be as sensitive and look as if you got sunburned. An idea is to invest in lose clothes either made of silk or similar soft material; also your would be better off with bed sheets of similar material. Be careful avoiding sunlight and cold because your skin of the treated area will be very sensitive. You might want to look into scarves or hats for protection.
Are there any precautions or preventions that can be made?
We know that unfortunately no treatment can guarantee your hair won’t fall out during or after cancer treatment. If your doctor informed you that your hair is likely to thin or fall out due to the treatment it would be good to plan ahead and look into what preventative steps you can take and which options you might have.
Strengthening your hair as much and as far ahead of time of treatment as possible!
Strengthening your hair can be a good investment and might delay the hair loss during treatment but note that if your doctor told you that you are getting strong doses of treatment, the following steps might not be worth your while. Please remember that all suggestions should be discussed with your doctor.
- Avoid Perm, color or other treatments that puts stress to your hair
- Blow dry as little as possible even better let your hair air-dry. Any heat to the hair can make it more fragile
- If you have medium or long hair do consider getting a shorter or a short haircut. Short hair seems to look more full and it might make it easier for you when the hair loss starts since it will be less noticeable to you as well as others
- Make sure your vitamin and mineral intake is as sufficient as possible. Have your doctor take a blood test if necessary
- Use Vegan parabene free Hair products
- Use a good quality hair mask, such as Vitamin infused Hair treatments
Do try and get all the support and help you can from your family and friends for both research and not at least for moral support. There is a lot of information to achieve about cancer from websites. There are Blogs available where people who either have or are going through cancer write together, give each other ideas and not at least support. Also you could ask your doctor or nurse if they know of any cancer support programs or groups.
What options are available for having normal looking hair during the time of treatment?
After your doctor tells you what to expect there will be a variety of options you can choose between. Keep in mind, that no matter what you choose it will be a substitute for your normal hair and will take some adjusting on your part.
Choosing a qualified professional Hair Replacement Specialist is the best way to achieve the most satisfying possible result. The Hair Replacement Specialist should be able to discuss the options available and guide you towards your goal.
Hairpieces – machine made
Machine Made Hairpieces are most commonly referred to as Wigs.
These wigs are made for people with some hair.
They come in a variety of colors and textures and can be made from human hair but most commonly from synthetic fibers. Sizes range from XS to Large. The style of a wig is usually set which means that it is ‘born’ with a specific style that is not interchangeable. The Wig is usually attached to the hair with or without the use of Clips.
- Wigs can usually be delivered immediately and can be purchased from Hair Replacement Centers, department stores, and Wig Shops.
- Wigs usually last any where from: 3 to 6 month
Hairpieces – Pre Custom
Pre Custom Hair Pieces are referred to as cranial prostheses.
They are made for people with little to no hair.
Cranial prostheses look much more real; first they are hand made, the hair is hand tied in 2 to 3 hairs per knot which is how normal hair grows. The front Hairline has a natural looking hairline.
Cranial prostheses are made to fit children, as well as women and men. Cranial prostheses are made of 100% human hair, a mix of human hair and synthetic fibers, or a blend of different type of fibers. The texture can be coarse to fine, with a variety of color options. A Cranial prosthesis usually has a soft and comfortable fit and can be attached with medical graded tape, medical graded adhesives, medical graded tape combined with adhesive, and or clips alone. A pre custom made hair piece create a variety of styling options and flexibility for the wearer.
- The delivery time is 1 to 4 weeks and can be purchased from Hair Replacement Centers and better quality Wig Shops.
- Cranial prostheses usually last 9 month to over a year.
Hairpieces - Full Custom
Full Custom Hair pieces are referred to as hand made cranial prostheses.
A hand made cranial prosthesis is made for people with little to no hair. They are hand made to completely fit the individual person’s measurements from the cap to the hairs chosen and can therefore completely match your choice of texture and colors. A hand made cranial prosthesis will mostly be made of 100% human better quality hair but can also be made by using higher quality fibers or mixes of human hair and these fibers. They are nearly undetectable and also natural looking with the closest to a perfect fit as humanly possible. They score high in flexibility and styling options.
A hand made cranial prosthesis can be attached with medical graded tape; medical graded adhesives, medical graded tape combined with adhesive, and or clips alone.
- The delivery time is 4 to 10 weeks. They can be purchased from Hair Replacement Centers.
- Cranial prostheses usually last from 1 to 3 years.
Alternatives to full Cranial Prostheses and Wigs
There are some other alternatives i.e. hair integrations for when you have some hair. Other is similar to a cranial prosthesis but the hair is attached to a hair band making it easy to put on and off your self and does fit to a lower budget choice. Other choices are Turbans and scarves.
If you are undergoing radiation therapy, wigs and other hairpieces might feel irritating to your scalp; in this case turbans and scarves would be a good choice and would help you out.
- Hair integrations, turbans, and scarves can usually be delivered immediately and can be purchased from Hair Replacement Centers, department stores, and Wig Shops.
Facial hair such as eyebrows, eyelashes and mustaches can be cosmetically enhanced at Hair Replacement Places.