Last Modified: December 5, 2014
A common side effect of chemotherapy is hair loss (alopecia). This article answers questions about hair loss and offers tips for coping with this condition. Are you looking for information on Radiation therapy and hair loss?
Chemotherapy attacks cells in our body that are rapidly growing, such as cancer cells. Some normal cells that also grow rapidly, like hair cells, are also affected.
Hair loss usually begins 2 weeks after your first treatment. Some people notice achiness or tingling of the scalp as the hair loss begins. If complete hair loss is expected, the hair may come out in large amounts and is usually complete within 3-7days.
Hair loss caused by chemotherapy is usually temporary. Your hair will start to regrow after your treatment is completed. Some people experience a small amount of regrowth during treatment. Most people experience significant hair re-growth 3-5 months after treatment is completed. It is not uncommon for hair to grow back curlier and a slightly different color.
Discuss this option with your healthcare provider. Small studies have shown that products marketed as "cold caps" can reduce or prevent hair loss from chemotherapy in some patients. These work by decreasing the blood flow to the scalp and therefore prevent the chemotherapy from affecting the hair follicles. Some practitioners are concerned that this may also prevent the chemotherapy from reaching cancer cells that may be in the scalp area. However, several European studies have shown no increase in metastases to the scalp.
Some health insurance policies cover the cost of wigs; you just have to know their language—usually they are referred to as "cranial hair replacement." You should contact your insurance company first to see if you have any coverage. You may need to ask your healthcare provider for a prescription in order to get reimbursement.
Secondly, the American Cancer Society in some areas can help to cover the cost of a wig up to $75. You should also see if your oncologist's office has a copy of the "TLC" catalog, which is published by the American Cancer Society and offers a wide selection of lovely wigs, turbans and head coverings.
They are cooler, can be more comfortable and overall require less care than wigs. There are many attractive, stylish, and creative head covers available.
It is normal to be upset about hair loss from cancer treatment. It may affect how you feel about yourself. It is also a visible reminder of your cancer. Share your feelings with your doctor, nurse, family and friends. There are many educational and supportive programs available.