Hair loss from cancer treatment happens because chemotherapy drugs don’t just affect cancer cells, but other cells that divide quickly in the body. This includes hair follicles. Not all chemotherapy drugs will cause hair loss. Sometimes radiation to the brain can cause hair loss too.
There is no standard pattern for treatment-related hair loss. Sometimes it falls out gradually or all at once. Some of it may fall out or all of it may fall out. Sometimes other hair will fall out, including eyebrows and eyelashes.
Hair loss from cancer treatment can be traumatic for both men and women. Hair is a part of an individual’s identity. The loss of hair is also an outward sign of cancer. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can prevent hair loss from occurring, but there are ways to prepare for it, and minimize the discomfort related to it.
Practical tips to manage hair loss
- If your hair is long and hair loss is expected, it might help to cut it short. When it starts to fall out, it may be less upsetting.
- Buy a wig. Sometimes it helps to find a wig that looks similar to your real hair. Many hair stylists can help cut the wig to match your hair so it feels more natural. It’s easiest to do this before your hair falls out so the stylist can see what your hair looks like. Some people like to buy wigs that are completely different from their real hair and have fun with something new. Wigs may be covered by insurance, or there are organizations that can provide free or reduced cost wigs.
- Buy scarves and hats. Sometimes wigs can be uncomfortable. Scarves and hats can be a good break from wigs.
- Women can check to see if there is a Look Good…Feel Better program in your area. This program helps cancer survivors feel better about their appearance while dealing with cancer treatment side effects.