Chemotherapy and Hair Loss: Why they are related?

If you’re reading this, you are probably going to start/have started chemo. Or you are a concerned one who is looking for answers. It is bad enough you are sick, but losing your hair too is harder to bear.

Not all cancers are the same. But they all have one thing in common, that is chemotherapy. During a consultation, doctors will tell you whether your treatment will cause hair loss or not. This gives you a heads up about what to plan for ahead. And what can you do to prevent hair loss?

You are already worried about losing hair because of other reasons. But if you have cancer, then the treatments are most likely to make your hair fall. All those who underwent cancer treatment reported losing their hair as a side effect.

Why Hair Loss in Chemotherapy? 

Chemotherapy medicines/drugs are very strong. They attack all or any fast-growing cells in the body. This, unfortunately, includes the hair root cells.

Stages of hair loss during Chemo are not restricted to your head only. It can affect your eyebrows, eyelashes, beard and all/anybody hair. The intensity of hair loss depends on how strong the medicines are. Some only cause hair thinning, while others can make you completely hairless.

Ask your doctors about the medicines they are giving you. They will give you an exact idea of what to expect.

The good news is that hair loss because of chemotherapy is temporary. You can expect your hair to grow back in 3-6 months after the treatments have ended. The new hair will grow a bit different in terms of color and texture. But over time the cells will become strong and you will go back to the way you used to be.

What to Expect?

Chemotherapy without hair loss can’t be expected. Hair may fall slowly or really fast or in patches. You will notice excess hair fall when you see them while brushing, or showering or on your pillow. The scalp will also feel soft.

Hair loss will continue throughout the treatment. And up to a few weeks/months afterward. Whether you have hair thinning or hair loss depends on the intensity of medicines.

People with hair loss from cancer become psychologically affected. Every time they look in the mirror and see fewer hairs they are reminded of their condition. And we don’t blame you, it is a hard time. But once it is over, everything will be back to the way it used to be.

Hair Regrowth after Chemotherapy

Hair does not start to grow back immediately after chemotherapy. The delay is due to chemotherapy drugs taking time to leave the body and to stop attacking healthy dividing cells. Usually, a month after the treatments stop, you will see hair appearing on your body and head.  They will be slightly in texture and color in the start. But over time they will be back to the way they were.

It might be curlier than it was before. Or you will grow gray hair until the cells that control the pigment of your hair begin functioning again.

Chemotherapy And Hair Loss Prevention

There is no treatment that guarantees hair won’t fall due to chemotherapy. Some methods were tried and tested. But so far there has been no success. For example

Scalp Hypothermia (scalp cooling caps)

During your chemotherapy sessions, a fitted cap is placed on your head. It is kept cold by channeling cooling liquid through it. This slows blood flow to your scalp. Chemotherapy drugs less likely to affect your hair.

Scalp cooling caps and other forms of cranial hypothermia have shown that they somewhat work on the majority of people who tried them. However, the procedure also poses a risk of cancer recurring in your scalp, as this area does not receive the same dose of medication as the rest of your body. Another side effect is feeling uncomfortably cold and having headaches.

Minoxidil

Applying minoxidil to your scalp before and during chemotherapy will not prevent hair loss. Research does prove that it speeds up your hair regrowth. But more research is needed to understand whether minoxidil is effective in re-growing hair after cancer treatment.

And if you think about it, there is no point applying it during the treatment. Since all or any hair that regrow will fall out again after the next session.

Natural ways to prevent hair loss during chemotherapy

Hair loss cannot be controlled or prevented during Chemotherapy. But you can manage it positively. Here are some chemo tips during treatment to minimize the frustration and anxiety that comes with hair loss.

Chemo haircut: Short hair tends to look fuller and appear thicker. So when your hair falls out, it won’t be that obvious if you already have short hair. The transition from short to shorter/thinner/bald is easier than long to no hair.

Get a head cover: There are many wigs made from real hair. There are campaigns where children donate their hair for cancer patients. The wigs that are made look very real. You can pick one that matches your hair texture and style.

Protect your scalp: Your head is going to be exposed to the sun or to the hot/cold air. Protect it with sunscreen and cover your head. Your scalp will be sensitive as you go through treatment. So extreme cold or sunshine can easily irritate it. So make sure you are well protected from external conditions.

 

Be patient: Your hair will come back slowly and that it might not look normal in the start. But regrowth takes time. And it will take a while to repair the damage caused by your cancer treatment.

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