Coping with hair loss

By: Mar 25, 2013
Hair loss

How to prepare and deal with hair loss before and during chemotherapy.

Men or women dealing with hair loss due to cancer or other illnesses are faced with a number of challenges. From low self-esteem to lack of confidence, losing your hair can be one of the most difficult things you have dealt with in life, next to the disease itself. 

Whether or not you lose your hair depends on what type of chemotherapy you engage in. If you do lose your hair, your attitude and outlook will largely determine your disposition.

Why Does Hair Loss Occur During Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy drugs are extremely powerful. They attack cancer cells with great ferocity, but unfortunately they also destroy healthy cells including those that grow hair. Chemotherapy drugs not only cause the hair on your head to fall out, but also can cause hair loss all over the body including eyebrows, eyelashes, underarms and pubic hair.

Not every medication associated with chemotherapy leads to hair loss, and not all that cause hair loss react in the same way. Your healthcare provider will be able to tell you what to expect based upon what type of chemotherapy medication you are placed on. Dosage amounts also play an important role in whether or not you will lose all or just some of your hair.

Hair loss due to chemotherapy is usually temporary. Most of the time hair begins to regrow within 3-10 months after the treatment has ended. Some people find their hair is a different texture or colour during the beginning phases of regrowth.

Hair Loss: What to Expect During Chemotherapy

Hair loss usually occurs within one to three weeks of commencing treatment. Some individuals experience gradual hair loss while others lose it rapidly. You may find your hair falling out a little at a time or in large clumps. Do not be alarmed if you wake up and find clumps of hair on your pillow or in your hairbrush. The hair loss will most likely continue throughout the duration of your treatment. The type and dosage of drug will determine whether you go completely or partially bald.

Slowing Down Hair Loss During Chemotherapy

Patient/doctor communication is critical in dealing with hair loss due to chemotherapy. Knowing what to expect during treatment can often mitigate feelings of fear, uncertainty and insecurity. While there is no method to prevent hair loss caused by chemotherapy, there are methods that can slow it down.

Scalp Hypothermia - this treatment involves placing icepacks on the scalp to slow the blood flow to that area. Studies has shown this type of cryotherapy is effective at lessening hair loss, but not without side effects. Individuals report having headaches and continuously feeling chilled. There is also a slightly elevated risk of cancer returning to the scalp.

Rogaine - rogaine is a common drug used for male and female pattern baldness. This treatment does not slow down hair loss, but has been shown to speed up the regrowth of hair.

Dealing with Hair Loss: What to do Before Treatment

If your doctor informs you are likely to lose your hair there are some steps you can take to make the process easier.

The first step is to be kind to your hair by treating it gently. Avoid bleach, harsh colouring treatments and chemicals. Also, avoid the use of hot curling irons and straighteners.

Cutting your hair can also prevent the visual shock of losing long strands of hair. People also report that cutting the hair short reduces feelings of itchiness and scalp irritability.

For many, hair loss is unavoidable. Plan on buying a head covering ahead of time and be sure to communicate with your doctor up front about the hair loss process.