Alopecia (Hair Loss)
When will alopecia occur?
The clinical term describing hair loss is alopecia. Hair loss usually occurs two to three weeks after the beginning of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. The rate at which people lose hair varies, as each person responds differently to treatment. Several days before hair loss occurs, your scalp may become very itchy and sensitive.
How much hair is lost?
Chemotherapy may affect all body hair. Since scalp hair is generally in an active growth phase, it is affected by chemotherapy more often than other body hair. Alopecia is usually temporary among patients receiving chemotherapy. The degree of hair loss is dependent on the drug and dosage used.
Radiation therapy affects hair in the area being irradiated. With radiation therapy, hair loss may or may not be permanent. The amount of hair loss can range from thinning to complete baldness. The quantity of hair loss as a result of radiation therapy is dose and site-dependent.
Why does hair fall out?
Cancer cells divide and grow rapidly. Hair is also made up of fast-growing cells. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are designed to destroy any cells that multiply quickly, and cannot differentiate between cancer cells and hair cells. This causes the hair to fall out at the root.
Who can help me with hair loss?
Before hair loss occurs, see a professional who can assist you in selecting a wig that closely matches your hair style and color and who will show you other hair alternatives. Early consultation can ease your mind before you begin your treatment. Have a friend or family member present to offer support and a second opinion.
When does hair grow back?
- Normally, hair does not grow back until you have completed chemotherapy. Some people do experience hair growth before the therapy is completed.
- Radiation therapy may retard hair growth. Regrowth does not usually begin until several months after the radiation treatment is completed.
- It may take six months to one year for hair to regrow to its prior length; hair generally grows about a quarter of an inch every four weeks once you have completed treatment.
- If you want to have your hair chemically curled, it is best to use a mild body wave. In order to prevent damage to the recovering hair shaft, wrap your hair loosely on the largest curling rod for a short amount of time.
- If you want to color your new hair, a safer, gentler way to do so is by using a semi-permanent color. Do not bleach hair to lighten.