What are the most common causes of hair loss during cancer treatment?
Most hair loss during cancer treatment is caused by chemotherapy. That’s because chemo targets rapidly growing cells, which damages hair follicles and makes the hair fall out. But radiation therapy can sometimes cause hair loss, too, when it’s used to treat head and neck cancers. It depends on the area that’s receiving radiation.
Do all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss?
No. Not all chemotherapy drugs have hair loss as a possible side effect. Check with your care team to find out if it’s a potential side effect for the drugs you’ll be taking.
Will every patient who receives chemotherapy lose their hair?
No. Everyone has a different response. Some people might lose all of their body hair, while others experience only mild thinning.
How soon does hair loss usually appear after cancer treatment begins?
It generally becomes noticeable after about three weeks. Head hair usually goes first, followed by hair from other areas of the body. But again, everyone responds differently, so it could be sooner or later, depending on the individual.
Is there any way of preventing or minimizing hair loss caused by cancer treatment?
No, not really. Some patients try wearing cold caps, which reduces blood flow to the scalp. The idea is to slow down the circulation there during an infusion, so the hair follicles won’t be exposed to as much chemotherapy. But cold caps aren’t always very effective, and many patients still lose at least some of their hair anyway.
How long will it take my hair to start growing back?
Patients usually start seeing regrowth about six to eight weeks after they’re done with treatment.
Is there anything I can do to make my hair grow back more quickly?
I tend to shy away from supplement recommendations, because you don’t want to run the risk of anything you ingest having a negative interaction with the drugs you’re already taking to treat the cancer. This is particularly true for cancer patients who are still in active treatment.
That being said, once they get the green light from their care team, many patients consider a biotin supplement, also known as vitamin B-7.
What about natural oils or hair growth products?
It’s hard to say what products will help with hair regrowth. Good general nourishment and the avoidance of extra chemicals — such as minoxodil — may help the healing process. Applying extra chemicals like minoxidil to your body may make you feel even more uncomfortable while your hair is growing back.
Both chemotherapy itself and the hair loss it causes can make your scalp feel rough and itchy, too. So, anything you can do to use fewer chemicals there would probably be prudent. I’d even consider using baby shampoos and cleansing products made for sensitive skin for a while, since they tend to be milder and cause less irritation.
What should I do if my hair grows back a different texture or color?
First, don’t panic. Everyone’s body chemistry is different, of course, but it’s unusual for changes like that to be permanent. It’s also pretty rare for hair to never grow back.
I would say to stay away from any products that chemically curl or straighten hair. We’d also never recommend dyeing or coloring it. But if you’re determined to do something, at least run it by your care team first, to make sure it won’t interfere with your treatment.
Is there anything else patients should know about cancer treatment and hair loss?
A lot of patients ask me if they should buy a wig. I tell them that’s certainly one option, but wigs can be expensive as well as hot, particularly here in Texas and especially during the summer months.
Protecting your skin from the sun with a head covering is important, but I can’t tell you the number of times patients have admitted to me that even after investing a bunch of time and money in getting a wig, they didn’t touch it once they had it. So, you might find scarves to be both a more comfortable and practical option. The most important thing is to figure out what works best for you.