For many people living with cancer, chemotherapy can help stop the spread of the disease. But it can also cause side effects, including hair loss. This can be a source of stress. Getting more information about chemo-related hair loss may help you feel better prepared.
Here are seven facts about hair loss from chemotherapy, including strategies to manage it.
1. Not all chemotherapy causes hair loss
Some types of chemotherapy are more likely than others to cause hair loss. Talk to your doctor to learn if hair loss is a common side effect of the chemotherapy medications you’ve been prescribed. Your doctor can help you learn what to expect and when to expect it.
In most cases, hair loss begins within two to four weeks of starting chemotherapy, according to the Mayo Clinic. The degree of hair loss can vary, depending on the type and dose of chemotherapy drug given.
2. Chemo-related hair loss is typically temporary
Most of the time, hair loss from chemotherapy is temporary. If you experience hair loss as a side effect, it will probably start to grow back within three to six weeks of finishing treatment.
To help your hair grow back strong, treat it gently. In the early stages of hair growth, avoid coloring or bleaching it. It might also help to limit the use of hairdryers and other heating devices.
When your hair grows back, it might be a slightly different color or texture than it was before. Those differences are usually temporary.
3. Scalp cooling caps might help prevent hair loss
Wearing a scalp cooling cap during chemotherapy infusions might help prevent hair loss. These caps are thought to slow the flow of blood to your scalp. This may limit the amount of chemotherapy drug that reaches your scalp, reducing its effects on your hair follicles.
According to a review published in the International Journal of Cancer, scalp cooling caps reduce the risk of hair loss in people undergoing chemotherapy. This study found that other treatments, including the use of minoxidil (Rogaine), were not effective.
Some people develop headaches while wearing scalp cooling caps or find them uncomfortable to wear. Some studies have suggested that these caps might increase the risk that cancer will develop in the scalp later on, but a recent review published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment found the rate of cancer recurrence in the scalp was low among breast cancer survivors. This was true whether people wore the caps or not.
4. A short haircut might make a difference
Shorter hair often looks fuller than longer hair. As a result, hair loss might be less noticeable if you have a short hairstyle. If you typically wear your hair long, consider cutting it before you begin chemotherapy.
After you start chemo, hair loss might make your scalp feel itchy, irritated, or sensitive. Shaving your head can help ease the discomfort. Many people also prefer the look of a cleanly shaved head to partial hair loss.
5. A variety of head coverings are available
If you feel self-conscious about hair loss, wearing a head covering might help. From wigs to scarves to hats, there are many options. Such coverings can also protect your head from sunlight exposure and cold air.
If you think you might want a wig that matches your natural hair color, considering buying it before you begin chemotherapy. This may help the wig shop to better match the color and texture of your hair. Try on different styles until you find one you like.
6. Some health insurance plans cover wigs
If you have health insurance, it might partially or fully cover the cost of a wig. Consider calling your insurance provider to learn if the cost is covered. In order to receive reimbursement, you will probably need to ask your doctor for a prescription for a “cranial prosthesis.”
Some nonprofit organizations also help fund the cost of wigs for people in need. Ask your cancer care center or support group for more information about helpful resources.
7. It’s OK to feel upset
Chemo-related hair loss affects different people in different ways. For many people, it can be distressing. If you find it difficult to cope with hair loss or other aspects of treatment, consider joining an online or in-person support group for people with cancer. This will give you the opportunity to talk about your experiences and learn from others who are facing similar challenges.
You might also be interested in connecting with style experts who can help you manage appearance-related concerns. For example, the Look Good, Feel Better program offers free workshops and other resources to help people with cancer learn about wigs, cosmetics, skin care, and other topics.
Hair loss is a common side effect of many chemotherapy regimens, but there are ways to manage it. Talk to your cancer care team about whether you can expect to experience hair loss as a result of your treatment.
If it’s an expected side effect, you can consider how you want to handle it. You might decide to try a short haircut, look into using scalp cooling caps, or start the process of choosing a wig. You can explore all of your options and make the choices that feel right for you.