hair loss and cancer treatment
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A general assumption surrounding cancer is that it causes hair loss. In truth, we really cannot hold cancer solely responsible for the loss of hair.

There’s a greater likelihood of it being a side effect we know as alopecia. This condition may occur in the case of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, stem cell or bone marrow transplants, and targeted therapy. The motive behind these treatments is to tackle the rapid spread of cancerous cells in your body. However, there are consequences for these treatments. Fast-growing, healthy cells of your body, such as hair follicles, suffer from damage,  triggering hair fall. The good news is that it is not a permanent condition.

While it is certainly true that chemotherapy drugs are often responsible for hair loss, it is still a myth that alopecia is a definite condition that every cancer patient will experience. The medicines you take, their doses, and the frequency of the treatment, are the determining factors of how severe the hair loss problem is. 

The severity of the hair loss problem varies with each individual. Some may experience critical complications, while others may only experience a mild case of hair fall. Other treatments, including radiation, tend to induce hair fall in the areas under treatment.

Cancer patients do not need to lose heart over this situation, though. You can manage the hair loss problem while undergoing treatment in several ways. Even your medical team will be able to guide you on supportive or palliative care to cope with hair loss during your treatment journey. 

Causes

causes of hair loss during cancer treatment

Certain cancer treatments specifically induce hair loss. You should have a detailed discussion with your doctor before initiating treatment and ask them about the likelihood of hair loss. At times, there may be other reasons for hair loss that you may not consider. These include low iron levels and thyroid problems. 

Chemotherapy

Not all kinds of chemotherapy cause hair loss. You may experience higher chances of hair loss with the following drugs:

  • Cisplatin
  • Altretamine
  • Docetaxel
  • Carboplatin
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Gemcitabine
  • Epirubicin
  • Fluorouracil
  • Ifosfamide and many others.

What you can expect

cancer treatment and hair loss

 In the case of chemotherapy, hair fall will likely start two to four weeks after the treatment process begins. The problem also may increase after a month or two into the treatment. The situation may alarm you, but you must rest assured that it is common for the scalp to feel tender and hair to fall out when washing, brushing, or even when asleep. 

The severity of hair loss also varies from one person to the next. It is even possible that several people taking the same cancer drug will experience varying levels of hair loss. As mentioned, the drug and the dose your doctor prescribes has a massive impact on how much hair you lose. It is also often possible that the method of consumption, whether intravenous, oral, or topical application, affects the amount of hair you lose.

The good news is that hair loss is only a temporary situation, and you will see your hair growing back as soon as your treatment ends. Your hair will begin to regrow within one to three months after your chemo sessions stop. 

It is possible that your new hair will have a different texture, i.e., it will be coarser or thinner than before, with a different color as well. This is not uncommon, and you must not lose heart because your hair will return to its original glory within a few years. 

Is there a way to prevent hair loss?

how to regrow hair after cancer

So far, we have yet to discover a foolproof way to treat cancer without causing hair fall. Although medical experts have tried to investigate treatments that would not cause hair loss, they have found none to be 100% effective. 

As an option, you may use caps to cool your scalp. This involves putting on a closely fitted cap containing a chilled liquid. Wrapping this liquid around your head means that it will reduce the flow of blood to your scalp, thereby rendering the chemo effects inactive. A point to note here is this, too, is not a foolproof formula, and there are chances that you will still experience some hair thinning. However, this will help you hold on to at least some of your hair. 

You can also use FDA-cleared laser hair growth caps equipped with low-level light therapy by. Laser caps utilize modern technology and address all your hair growth needs, right in the comfort of your home. The hair loss industry is buzzing with excitement at the effectiveness of these caps. Laser caps are not only non-invasive compared to the traditional methods, such as transplants, but are also more effective in reducing your hair loss troubles.

You can also seek your doctor’s advice concerning Rogaine or Minoxidil. You can apply this drug to your scalp during chemotherapy. There is no certain claim regarding this drug’s effectiveness, as extensive research is still underway. However, what people have observed so far is that this drug does speed up hair growth as opposed to preventing hair loss. 

While there is no way you can deter hair loss from occurring, you, however, manage the problem to reduce its severity during the treatment. Some simple things you can do include:

  • Wash your hair less often and very gently. Use baby shampoo and lukewarm water when you wash your hair.
  • Pat dry your hair instead of vigorous towel rubbing to prevent damage.
  • Choose a shampoo that is gentle and fragrance-free, if not a baby shampoo.
  • When styling or combing your hair, choose a wide-toothed comb or a soft brush.
  • Do not use chemical products for styling your hair.
  • Avoid semi-permanent or permanent coloring.
  • One way to reduce hair loss is to use a silk or satin pillowcase when you sleep. This will reduce the tangles and friction that cause your hair to break when asleep. 
  • Do not use curlers, blow driers, and flat irons for your hair. Also, avoid hairstyles like cornrows, braids, and ponytails.
  • You could also cover your head with a turban, scarf, or wig if you feel the need. 
  • Your insurance can cover the cost of a wig. All you have to is ask your doctor to prescribe something for hair prosthesis.

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