Will my hair fall out during treatment?

November 8, 2010 Cobie Whitten

Unfortunately hair loss can be one of the socially obvious and emotionally upsetting aspects of chemotherapy. While some advances have been made, preventing and predicting whether or not you will lose your hair during chemotherapy is unique to each individual. We strongly recommend you talk with your nurse about your specific treatment.

Generally speaking, chemotherapy stops the growth of cancer cells and other actively dividing cycling cells in the body by preventing them from growing or multiplying. Unfortunately, when cancer cells are destroyed other healthy cells are harmed, especially cells of the hair, causing hair loss.

The good news is hair growth does return, usually about 6 to 8 weeks after chemotherapy treatment ends. Your new hair may have a different color or texture; for example, if you had straight, thin hair you may now have a head full of thicker curls.  However, the re-growth may not make the hair loss any easier to accept. One may also lose eyelashes and eyebrows.

Preparing for hair loss can be helpful in alleviating some of the emotions that may occur.

  • Purchasing a wig before you begin treatment can help you to match your natural hair color before loss begins. Or, pick a new color! If you have ever wanted to try a different hair color or style, now may be the time.
  • Cutting your hair short before beginning chemotherapy can also make your hair loss less devastating. If you do experience hair loss you are more likely to lose it in clumps rather than evenly.
  • Finally, experimenting with different fashion accessories such as hats, scarves and wraps may help you to feel “more put together.” Friends and family may even host a head covering party for you!

Hair loss, especially in addition to other side effects of surgery and chemotherapy/radiation, can feel overwhelming. The best advice we can give is be patient and know that this too shall pass. Make a list of things that make you feel good about yourself and put it on the fridge. On those days when you need a pick-me-up, pull down the list and be as tender with yourself as you would your dearest friend. Grab a hat, wig, scarf or nothing at all and get out there!

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