Hair loss or alopecia is a known side effect of various types of cancer treatment. It can take place as a side effect of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplant or targeted therapy. All these cancer treatments can harm the cells, which helps in hair growth. They can affect the hair of all parts of the body including legs, arms, head, face, pubic area and underarms.
However, this situation is different for everyone. A person may lose all the hair or only sections of hair. Lost hair generally grows back after the treatment. But hair loss usually affects the physical appearance and emotions.
Therefore, to cope up a person undergoing cancer treatment must be aware of:
· Causes of hair loss
· How to manage hair loss?
· How to take care of hair when they grow back?
· Can hair loss be prevented?
Causes of hair loss
The extent of hair loss depends on the type of treatment option. Following are some of the cancer treatments that can cause hair loss:
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy drugs are potent medicines, which kill cancer cells that are growing rapidly. Sadly, other fast growing cells in the body including the ones growing in hair roots also get attacked by these drugs.
Thus, chemotherapy might cause hair loss on all parts not just the scalp. It can affect eyelash, pubic, eyebrow, armpit and other areas.
Luckily, generally the hair loss due to chemotherapy is temporary. Hair regrowth can be expected three to six months after the therapy.
Radiation therapy: This therapy only causes hair loss on the part of the body, which is treated. If a person is getting therapy to the breast for breast cancer then, there will be no hair loss on the head. There will be hair loss only on the breast.
Hair loss generally grows back after some months. If the doses of radiation therapy were very high then hair may not grow back.
Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy does not cause complete hair loss. However, some targeted therapies may cause hair to become drier, curlier or thinner than usual.
Hormonal therapy: Hormonal therapy can sometimes cause hair thinning. It does not generally cause complete hair loss. Some of the hormonal therapies are more expected to cause hair loss such as Anastrozole and Fulvestrant.
How to manage hair loss?
Hair loss can be managed with help of certain ways:
Treating hair gently: If you want to use hairbrush, then use the one that has soft bristles. Otherwise use a wide-tooth comb. Do not use hair clips, hair dryers or flat irons. Wash your hair less frequently and use only mild shampoo. Pat dry hair with the help of a soft towel.
Make your choices: It’s the choice of a person to cut hair shorter or to keep them long but a shorter hairstyle makes hair look fuller. Moreover, it takes less time to grow into the shorter hairstyle once the hair starts regrowing. Some people with cancer prefer to shave their head and opt for wigs.
Wearing a scarf or other head coverings is also a good idea. It is better to purchase these items in advance to feel more prepared for hair loss.
Protect the scalp: Using sunscreen or hat are the best ways to keep your scalp protected while going outside. Otherwise a scarf can also be used to keep the head warm.
Talk about your feelings: You can talk to someone who you feel understands you about the anger, depression or embarrassment that you feel about hair loss. Talking this openly with your children and family members helps you.
How to take care of hair when they grow back?
When the hair starts to grow back, then they will be much thinner and susceptible to get damaged. They may also differ in color or texture. Following ways can help to take care of the hair, which grows back:
- Stay gentle with your hair and avoid blow-drying or too much brushing.
- Avoid washing them often.
- You can gently massage your scalp to remove the flakes and dry skin.
- Avoid coloring hair for at least some time.
Can hair loss be prevented?
There is no sure way that can ensure your hair will not fall out. Various treatments for hair loss have been studied, but none has been completely useful, including:
Scalp cooling caps: During chemotherapy infusions, a closely fitted cap which is cooled by chilled liquid is placed on the head of the patient to slow blood flow towards the scalp. This way helps to reduce the effects of chemotherapy drugs on a patient's hair.
Researches of scalp cooling caps show that they work to some extent in the majority of people. However, this procedure also carries very small risk of cancer recurring in the scalp because the scalp area doesn't get the same chemotherapy dose as the rest of the body.
Minoxidil: Minoxidil is an approved drug for hair loss. Its application on the scalp before and during chemotherapy is not expected to prevent the hair loss, but some studies show that it may accelerate the hair regrowth. However, more research is required to understand if minoxidil is efficient to regrow the hair after cancer treatment.
It is obvious to feel bad about the hair loss that occurs as a result of cancer treatment. But preparing your and your families mind before the treatment helps to accept the situation and cope-up with it. You can stay ready for managing the hair loss by getting scarves, hats or the wigs before the treatment. Most of the time hair loss occurring due to cancer treatment is temporary. Thus, stay positive and think about the positive side of treatment. Be patient for a few months and your body will start growing new hair after some months.