The Facts about Chemotherapy and Hair Loss

Chemotherapy Hand HoldingHair loss is a sensitive subject. Hair loss and cancer? Well, that’s a subject no-one likes to talk about. Unfortunately, if you are one of the many people that go through this devastating disease and undergo chemotherapy, hair loss is likely to occur. For men and women it can be scary and depressing, coming at a time when they’re already having to deal with illness and treatments.

For women though, the loss can also seriously affect their self-esteem as they struggle to come to terms with the drastic change in their appearance.

So why does Chemotherapy cause hair loss? And more importantly, is there anything that can be done to prevent it from happening?

Most forms of Chemotherapy will result in some degree of hair loss; ironically, it is the very action of the treatment – the aggressive attack of the cancer cells – that damages all other cells in the body causing, amongst other things, loss of all body hair.

While some Chemotherapy drugs, such as Adrucil, cause no or very little loss others, like Adriamycin, will make the hair fall out rapidly soon after treatment starts. For most people, the loss is reasonably gradual – they will notice hair coming off on their brush, in the shower and on their pillow.

Before the hair loss starts there are steps that can be taken to ensure it is as slow and psychologically painless as possible. Getting the hair and scalp into peak condition helps immensely. Before treatment begins, and in the 2-4 weeks that it usually takes for the hair to start shedding once Chemo has started, it should be treated gently, meaning no harsh chemicals or dyes, careful brushing and no stress (i.e. from tight ponytails etc.).

Regular conditioning and mild shampoos are definitely recommended as is having the hair cut short. While this may seem counterproductive, it has two important benefits; the hair looks thicker and healthier when shorter and you can mentally prepare yourself (and those around you) for the inevitable loss. Speaking of the inevitable – the loss of most or all the hair – there are several ways to deal with and yes, even embrace the resulting baldness. Now more than ever, cancer is being talked about openly and, while still not pleasant, it is not the taboo subject it once was.

Cancer patients have many resources and supports available to them, getting advice and help not only on the emotional effects of the illness but the physical too. Most people will choose to cover their head in some way, with scarves and hats, while some prefer to wear a wig throughout and after treatment. While it may seem hard at first, a positive attitude towards this is encouraged. Choosing colorful, funky scarves or a flattering wig can go a long way in raising spirits and confidence levels.

Whatever covering you choose, it’s still important to take care of the scalp, keeping it moisturized, protected from the elements and prepped for the growth of new hair after treatment. When your hair does return, usually 3-6 months after the last Chemo treatment, don’t be surprised if it’s completely different than before. It may grow curly, gray, thinner and finer than before. This is usually temporary though and most people find it returns to normal in time. As with any hair loss, the healthier the body, the better chance the hair has of growing as fast and strong as possible.

Vitamins B and E are particularly good for hair growth as are Omega 3 fatty acids and Biotin.

There’s no doubt, hair loss due to Chemotherapy is tough. Reaching out to others in the same situation by joining a support group can help you realise that you’re not fighting the battle alone. And that it is a battle that can be won!

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