Chemotherapy can cause a form of hair loss known as alopecia.
This is due to the fact that this anticancer treatment does not discriminate
among the cells it destroys and can usually kill normal fast growing
cells like those found in our hair follicles. The destruction of the
hair follicles causes rapid hair loss.
This can occur in all hair growing surfaces of the body such as the
scalp, arms, legs, underarms, genital area, and face. The loss of
hair attributed to chemotherapy can vary from mild hair loss to severe
and total hair loss.
Different drugs cause different degrees of hair loss; the degree of hair loss
also depends on the individuals tolerance of the drugs used. Some
people may lose hair while others may not.
People who go through chemotherapy begin losing hair within 10 to 14 days of the start of treatment. The hair may fall out slowly or in clumps. A tingling sensation or dull pain may be experienced when the shedding of hair begins. The most likely evidence of hair loss is the increased number of hair left on the pillow or hair brush.
Hair loss generally continues all through the course of treatment and may continue up to a month after treatment has stopped. The degree of hair loss depends on the type of treatment, in general terms, individuals who undergo chemotherapy will lose about 50% of their hair before the thinning becomes obvious to others.
Chemotherapy related hair loss is not permanent and all the hair lost due to this course of cancer treatment will grow back within at least six months once this type of therapy has ended. It is expected; however, that the new hair that grows will be of different texture and color as compared to the original hair. The recovery of hair in individuals who have undergone chemotherapy takes about six to four weeks, with hair growing about a quarter of an inch per month.
As of the moment, there is no known prevention for the loss of hair attributed to chemotherapy. Since the loss of hair depends on the type of medication and dosage used, it is best to talk to the doctor about any concerns regarding hair loss and chemotherapy.
Although not certified to be effective, some treatments for the prevention of hair loss due to chemotherapy have been investigated:
- Scalp hypothermia or cryotherapy
During the course of chemotherapy treatment, ice packs, cold caps, and other similar devices may be used to slow the flow of blood to the scalp. This way, the drugs used for chemotherapy will be less likely to affect the hair follicles on the scalp. It should be noted though, that the use of cryotherapy puts the individual at risk of the cancer reoccurring on the scalp since the scalp will not be getting the same treatment as the rest of the body.
The use of minoxidil during chemotherapy will not prevent hair loss but will most likely increase the regrowth of hair after undergoing treatment. The use of minoxidil may also slow down the loss of hair during chemotherapy.
Individuals going through chemotherapy may also take some steps in protecting their hair from any more stress like using mild shampoos, avoiding the use of blow dryers, keeping the scalp clean and moisturized, and protecting the scalp from the sun.