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.