Hair Loss

Hair loss (alopecia) can be one of the most devastating and emotional experience, as it is the most visible side effect of cancer treatment.  When our hair falls out, it affects or self-image and quality of life.  It is important to know that hair loss is not permanent, and your hair will grow back normally once the treatment is complete.

Treatments and Hair Loss
In addition to affecting the cancerous cells, radiation and chemotherapy treatments can affect normal cells, including the cells responsible for hair growth.   

Hair loss occurs with many chemotherapy drugs, but not all; and sometimes the loss is slight and not noticeable.  Hair loss from chemotherapy occurs because the hair follicles are weakened by the treatment, which causes your hair to fall out much more quickly than it would normally.  Hair loss from chemotherapy can occur in all parts of the body – head, face, legs, armpits, arms and pubic hair.  Depending on the type of treatment you receive, hair loss may start anywhere from seven to 21 days after treatment begins. Your hair will start to grow back when you are finished with chemotherapy but it may take six to 12 months to grow back completely. It may even have a different texture – for example, curly hair can grow back straight and dark hair can become lighter.

Unlike chemotherapy, radiation therapy causes hair loss only in the area being treated.  For example, if you are receiving radiation to your head, you will lose scalp hair only.  As mentioned above, hair loss is usually not permanent, however, radiation to the head or scalp can cause permanent hair loss.  The hair will sometimes come back within two to three months if lower doses of radiation are used. 

What You Can Do to Help with Hair Loss?

  • Use mild shampoos, like baby shampoo, to avoid dryness of the scalp 
  • Cut hair short (it’s easier to deal with short hair falling out than longer hair) 
  • Avoid heated rollers and hairdryers, but if you must, use the low setting 
  • Use a wide-tooth comb and soft hairbrushes 
  • Do not colour or perm your hair 
  • Avoid plaiting your hair or wearing it too tight 
  • Sleep on sating pillows 
  • Protect head from the sun – wear a hat, scarf or wig.

Obtaining and Wearing a Wig

  • Buy a wig before all of your hair falls out sot that you will have a good match to your own hair colour and will be prepared when hair-loss starts 
  • Keep in mind that there are full-service wig salons that fit and style wigs, some of which specialize in hair loss from cancer treatments.. 
  • Have fun with it.  Wig salons also sell turbans and scarves that come in a variety of colours and fabrics that are stylish.   
  • Wear stickies to keep your wig on.  They are so effective that you’ll forget you are wearing a wig.