In my article, I will discuss some ways to handle chemotherapy-related hair loss. It is normal to feel anxious, depressed, or self-conscious about losing one’s hair. But does all chemotherapy cause hair loss?
The treatment can cause unpleasant side effects like fatigue, nausea and vomiting, decreases in blood cells and the most distressing of all, hair loss. Chemotherapy-induced alopecia (CIA) or hair loss caused by chemotherapy is one of the most visible side-effects of the treatment.
The hair loss depends on several factors – the chemotherapy dose, the type of drug, the type of cancer, the duration of the treatment and personal factors.
Why does chemotherapy cause hair loss?
Chemotherapy is designed to target abnormal cancer cells that grow and spread rapidly and destroy, slow down or block their rapid growth. Unfortunately chemotherapy can also harm normal healthy cells of the body that divide rapidly like the cells in the hair follicles which are sensitive to the effects of some cancer treatments.
Hair loss may happen within 2 to 3 weeks of starting treatment. The amount of hair loss depends on the type of cancer or chemotherapy. Some drugs cause hair loss, while others cause little or no hair loss whatsoever. Some chemo treatments do not make people lose hair but it does become thinner or duller. Your doctor is the best person to advise you about how much hair loss you can expect.
The speed and extent of hair loss varies from individual to individual. Some people lose their hair gradually, while others immediately find their hair falling out in clumps. However, unlike radiation therapy hair loss is not confined only to the treated area, but spreads throughout the body. It is difficult to predict which patients will lose their hair and which ones won’t. For some patients hair loss may be limited to the hair on the scalp while in others it may spread to their eyelashes, eyebrows, facial and chest hair (for men), underarm hair, hair on the arm, legs and the pubic area. The remaining hair may become thinner or drier.
Hair shedding is not usually accompanied by any other symptoms, although some people may experience scalp discomfort like a tingling or tickly sensation and scalp pain or tenderness a couple of days before and during hair fall.
How can you prepare for alopecia?
Though hair loss especially in women can be emotionally distressing, they can take steps to minimize its devastating impact.
However upsetting hair loss can be, it is very good to know that the hair of cancer patients will start to grow back. The rate of growth varies from patient to patient. Some people will notice their hair growing back during their treatment while for others it may take a month or two. The color, texture and type of the patients’ hair may be different. People may have darker and thicker hair that is difficult to manage while those who have straight hair find that they have curly hair or vice versa. The hair that grows back will be more fragile and is prone to breakage.
Here Are The 10 Ways To Cope With Hair Loss
1. Prepare your family and inform them about the side-effects of chemotherapy.
Children may be upset, embarrassed or scared by your hair loss. It is necessary to tell them what to expect and why your treatment is important. Be positive and your children will respond better. You can connect with support groups formed by cancer survivors who are in a very good position to offer help and advice on ways of dealing with this catastrophic illness. Your hair care team can advise you on hair care and ways to help you manage and cope with hair loss.
2. Cancer patients are recommended to keep a short hair style.
It can make their hair look thicker and fuller. Go to a hairdresser to get this done. Cutting or shaving your hair will make it easier to make the transition from a head of lustrous hair to a bald one. When your hair starts to fall out it would not be in clumps but just short hair. Use an electric trimmer or clipper and avoid using a plastic razor which might injure your scalp. Or they may prefer to go bald to make their hair loss less dramatic.
3. Be gentle with your hair.
Don’t wash it too frequently and use a mild protein shampoo without strong fragrances, alcohol, or salicylic acid.
4. Don’t color, perm, or chemically straighten your hair.
Chemicals can irritate your hair and damage your scalp. Use a soft hair brush and hair dryer set on low heat. Avoid hard brushes, rollers, curling and straightening irons. For your pillow case use a material like silk or satin that is softer and smoother and will reduce friction.
5. Get a suitable headwear like wigs and hairpieces.
Lace front wigs are popular these days. Do this before the treatment starts. Get a snatch of your hair to match it with the color and style of the wig if you decide to get one. It is a myth that chemo headwear prevents your hair from regrowing. There are specially made chemo headwear at Amazon below.
6. Use make-up and false eyelashes
Eyelashes are a central to a woman’s self-image and sense of self-esteem. Eyebrows and eyelashes also do the job of protecting our delicate eyes from dust. One of the unpleasant effects of chemotherapy is the thinning or loss or these features after chemotherapy is completed. So sunglasses will have to take the place of our eyebrows and eyelashes.
Make-up and false eyelashes are an option that ladies may consider but check with your doctor before using the latter.
7. Put on a soft cap or turban to collect the strands of falling hair.
Gently brush and wash way hair that is falling out from your head, armpits and pubic areas.
8. At night put on a nightcap made from breathable fabric without elastic or rough stitches that may cause irritation.
Post chemotherapy, wigs and other headwear are not merely used to conceal your hair loss but also to keep your head warm. A bald head cools off faster and requires protection, so a comfortable nightcap helps if you feel cold during the autumn and winter months.
9. Ask your doctor about “scalp cooling” or scalp hypothermia during chemotherapy as it may help prevent or reduce the amount of hair loss.
The tight cap filled with cold gel narrows blood vessels underneath the scalp and limits the amount of medicine that reaches the hair follicle. More research has to be done about its benefits and side-effects.
10. Protect your scalp from the heat, cold and the sun.
To shield it from the cold put on a hat or scarf. A sunscreen will shield it from sunburn.
Hair Loss In Children
And finally a word on hair loss in children. Children seem to be better able to cope with chemotherapy than adults, suffer less from its severe side effects and recover faster.
Both adults and children are affected by alopecia. Younger children may not be as upset as school-going children and teens. You should try to find ways to make them cope better with this problem.
Like adults, children also suffer from thinning of the hair or hair loss that may start on the scalp and spread to other parts of the body. Here again the speed and extent of hair loss depends on the type of chemotherapy and cancer and other factors.
You should take the same precautions mentioned above for your child’s hair loss. Make sure that your child’s head is not exposed to the sun and cold. A sunscreen is a good protection against sunburn. Get your child to put on headwear such as a hat or scarf. If he or she experiences itchiness, use a moisturizing shampoo, cream lotion and conditioner.
You may give your child a short hairstyle, or even shave his or her head bald or get a wig to match your child’s hair color and style. Discuss the importance of the treatment with your child . Hopefully, your child will develop a positive attitude towards the disease.
Finally, don’t wash your child’s hair too frequently.
I hope you will find my article on hair loss or alopecia in adults and children caused by chemotherapy helpful. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below and I will do my best to address them.