woman with hair loss
Undergoing Cancer Treatment

What Every Cancer Patient Should Know about Hair Loss

Hair loss is often cited as the side effect patients fear most after being diagnosed with cancer and prescribed a course of lifesaving chemotherapy. While this type of hair loss is unavoidable, there are a number of ways that patients can prepare themselves for the physical and emotional changes that can accompany hair loss.

Here’s what you need to know about hair loss during and after cancer treatment.

How and Why Hair Loss Happens

Chemotherapy is designed to target fast-growing cancer cells in your body. Unfortunately, chemotherapy drugs don’t distinguish between cancer cells and other rapidly growing cells your body such as those found in hair follicles. While every cancer drug is different and has different effects on different people, chemotherapy drugs may cause significant hair loss on your scalp as well as the rest of your body.  Hair loss in the form of sudden significant shedding of handfuls of hair can occur within a few weeks of starting chemotherapy as the Anagen or growth phase of hair follicles are interrupted. Tip: Ask your oncologist whether your chemo drugs commonly cause hair loss and if there are any other drug options.

Whether your hair remains “normal” during treatment, gets weaker over time, sheds out completely, how quickly regrowth occurs and the quantity/quality of the hair that returns depends on the type and dosage of your chemotherapy. Most chemotherapy causes temporary hair loss, but some chemotherapy medications are known to cause more hair loss more quickly and can also have a high likelihood of causing permanent damage to your hair follicles. Some patients report that after chemotherapy has stopped, their hair growth resumes but in a different volume, texture and curl. In some patients, hair regrowth may be significantly delayed or not regrow at all.

Slowing Down Hair Loss & Stimulating Healthy Hair Growth

Even though we can’t completely prevent chemotherapy-induced hair loss, there are a number of effective treatments available that have been proven to slow down hair loss and stimulate regrowth.

  • Cold Caps: – The use of very cold scalp coverings while undergoing chemotherapy treatments have been successful in preventing chemo-induced hair fall. However, some oncologists believe that the use of these cold-caps may prevent the chemo from getting to the scalp, increasing risk of scalp metastasis or spread of the cancer in the future. Check with your oncologist to see if he/she approves of Cold-Cap therapy.
  • Laser Therapy: Low-level laser therapy is a safe, effective FDA-approved hair regrowth treatment. Using laser therapy, many patients can significantly preserve and improve hair quality as well as speed up healthy hair regrowth. Laser therapy is painless, non-invasive and has absolutely no side effects, making it an ideal treatment for recovering cancer patients.
  • Minoxidil: Women can use Minoxidil (Rogaine) before and during chemotherapy as a hair growth stimulant. While Minoxidil will not prevent hair loss, its use can help speed up the regrowth process following treatment.
  • Nutritionals: Many cancer patients benefit from the addition of nutritional supplementation following hair loss. Hair vitamins and supplements, like Viviscal Pro and “SuperBiotin” are specially formulated to nourish thinning hair, while also creating a healthy environment for existing hair and hair follicles.
  • Scalp Makeovers: New “scalp makeovers” are available to treat and clean the scalp and improve circulation. Evaluations start with a detailed scientific “Trico-Test” and treatments range from sebum-regulating topical serums to scalp steaming and massage, moisturizing lotions and hair boosting dermal patches.
  • Healthy Hair Diet: Hair is essentially made up of protein, so eating a high-protein diet can assist with growing healthy hair. In addition to protein, there are other “hair healthy foods” that can help increase your hair’s length, shine or thickness. Vitamins, especially of the vitamin B family, are also important to the overall health of your hair and preventing further hair loss and thinning.

Beyond Wigs: 3D-Printed Hair

One of the most exciting breakthroughs for treating chemo-induced hair loss came with the recent advent of medical-grade “cranial prosthetics.”

With the help of 3D-printing technology, new advanced hair and scalp systems can help patients regain a natural-looking hairline. A cranial prosthetic is a medical-grade hair replacement system, which uses the latest technologies and 100 percent unprocessed human hair to create a full new head of hair that is specifically designed and matched to the individual patient. These state-of-the-art systems are providing a promising new option for helping cancer patients conceal their hair loss and resume a normal life for the duration of the treatment, or until the hair grows back.

3D-printed hair is far more advanced than a traditional hairpiece, medical wig or hair system. The advanced prosthetics can be shampooed and styled with ease and can be exposed to all activities, including swimming and high-impact sports. Unlike wigs, “cranial prosthetics” are never hot, itchy or uncomfortable – providing a previously unattainable level of confidence, freedom and comfort for cancer survivors.

Seeking Help

If you are concerned about hair loss due to chemotherapy, contact a hair restoration physician who can work with you to determine the most effective treatment regimen for your specific needs. Patients should look for someone who is board-certified by the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery, recommended by the American Hair Loss Association and/or an active member of the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery.

Alan J. Bauman, M.D. is a full-time hair transplant surgeon who has treated over 17,000 patients and performed over 7,000 surgical procedures since starting his medical hair loss practice, Bauman Medical Group, in 1997. Currently located in Boca Raton, Florida, Dr. Bauman received his M.D. degree from New York Medical College and surgical residency training at Mt. Sinai Medical Center and Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. Please visit https://baumanmedical.com/