Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: September 18, 2013
Radiation therapy will generally cause hair loss to the body part that is being treated. For example, if your arm were treated with radiation, you may lose any hair on your arm, but the hair on your head would not be affected. The degree of hair loss will depend on several factors, including the size of the area being treated and the total dose of radiation being given. Hair loss is greatest within the treatment field, but may also occur in the area where the radiation beam exits the body.
Chemotherapy drugs also can cause hair loss. If you are also receiving chemotherapy, you should discuss whether or not the medications you are receiving may cause hair loss. When hair loss is caused by chemotherapy, it will include all the hair on your body (head, eyebrows, body hair, etc.). Learn more about hair loss caused by chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy not only destroys cancerous cells, but may also affect healthy cells in your body. The healthy cells that are most at risk for being damaged by radiation therapy are those that tend to grow at a fast rate, including hair cells. Thinning of hair and, in some cases, complete hair loss may result.
Hair loss caused by radiation therapy may be temporary or permanent. At lower doses, hair loss is often temporary, but at higher doses, hair loss can be permanent. Your physician or nurse can discuss whether the anticipated hair loss is expected to be temporary or permanent, based on the planned dose of radiation. Each patient's situation is unique, however, and it is not possible to guarantee regrowth of hair even at lower doses of radiation therapy. Hair loss caused by chemotherapy is typically temporary.
When regrowth occurs, there may be changes in texture and color. It is common for hair to grow back curlier than it was; however, a change of color is less common.
Each person responds differently when learning that they may experience hair loss. There is no right or wrong response. What's important is to do what you feel comfortable with, to do what is right for you. If you expect to lose the hair on your head during your cancer treatments, the following tips may be helpful: