Hair loss is a common side effect of many types of chemotherapy. And many women find that it’s a difficult reminder of their condition. Finding support and ways to manage your hair loss can help you stay positive.
Will I lose my hair with chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy drugs harm fast-growing cells. While this is exactly what you want to fight breast cancer, it comes at a cost to healthy cells, including those in the roots of your hair.
As with other side effects of chemotherapy, hair loss will vary from one person to another. Some women may not lose any of their hair, while others may lose all of it. Hair loss often depends on the specific chemotherapy drug and the dose.
Some drugs or doses may cause your hair to thin, while others may lead to balding. Your hair may fall out very gradually or in clumps. Chemotherapy may lead to hair loss all over your body, not just on your head.
Hair loss with chemotherapy may not be your biggest health concern. But it’s a common side effect of treatment that causes distress for many women. Preparing yourself for this change in appearance can make it easier to cope.
When will I lose my hair and how soon will it come back?
You may begin to notice hair loss two to three weeks after treatment begins. Your hair will most likely start growing back two to three months after your treatment ends.
When your hair comes back, it might not look as it did before treatment. But differences in hair color or texture may be temporary.
What should I do when my hair starts falling out?
It’s important to manage this change in your appearance in a way that’s the most comfortable to you. The National Cancer Institute suggests the following approaches to managing hair loss:
- Cut your hair short or shave your head.
- Buy a wig. Health insurance will often cover part of the purchase of a wig. It helps to request a prescription or letter from your doctor.
- Wear a head covering or scarf. This is especially important when going outside to protect your head from the sun or keep it warm during cold weather.
If you find the prospect of hair loss particularly difficult, consider taking a Look Good Feel Better class offered by the American Cancer Society or joining a support group. Your doctor or oncologist may also refer you to a social worker to assist you.
Are there ways to reduce or prevent hair loss?
Hair loss may be unavoidable, but some strategies may limit or slow the process:
- Scalp Cooling— There’s some evidence that scalp cooling may help to avoid hair loss with chemotherapy. The method works by limiting blood flow to the scalp during treatment. Studies of scalp cooling suggest it can significantly reduce hair loss. In one study, scalp cooling reduced hair loss by almost 80 percent in those receiving one chemotherapy drug. The treatment was also well tolerated. Researchers at Baylor Breast Care Center are now testing scalp cooling in women receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer. But scalp cooling may not work for everyone. Talk to your doctor or other members of your healthcare team before pursuing this method to see if it is an option for you. It may be expensive, and it requires someone to help you with the process.
- Minoxidil (Rogaine)—According to the Mayo Clinic, scalp treatment with minoxidil probably can’t prevent your hair loss. But it may help to encourage your hair to grow back after treatment.
- Clinical Trials and Research— Researchers are considering other methods to manage hair loss after chemotherapy. One clinical trial will test the use of hair extensions for those who have lost their hair. Another trial will test a solution to increase eyelash and eyebrow growth after chemotherapy. Research is also underway to better understand hair loss. Experts say these studies may lead to new drugs to encourage hair growth.
Is it possible my hair won’t come back?
Hair loss with chemotherapy is temporary for most people. However, studies show that permanent hair loss can be a complication of some chemotherapy regimens.
Ask your healthcare team about your risks of hair loss with treatment. They can help you find additional resources and support.