Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Hair loss (also called alopecia) is when some or all of your hair falls out. Hair loss can happen anywhere on your body: your head, face, arms, legs, underarms or pubic area. Many people are upset by the loss of their hair and find it the most difficult part of chemotherapy. Some types of chemotherapy damage the cells that cause hair growth. Hair loss is one of the side effects of chemo and often starts 2 to 3 weeks after chemotherapy begins.
Your scalp may hurt at first. Then you may lose your hair, either a little at a time or in clumps. It takes about one week for all your hair to fall out. Almost always, your hair will grow back 2 to 3 months after chemotherapy is complete. You may notice that your hair starts growing back even while you are getting chemotherapy. Your hair will be very fine to start with and may not look or feel the same as it did before. Your hair may be thinner than before, curly instead of straight, and darker or lighter in colour.
Ways to Manage Hair Loss:
Before hair loss
- Talk with your doctor or nurse. He or she will know if your chemotherapy is likely to cause hair loss.
- You might feel more in control of hair loss if you pre-emptively cut your hair or shave your head. This makes your hair loss easier to manage. If you shave your head, use an electric shaver instead of a razor.
- If you plan to buy a wig, do so while you still have hair. The best time to choose your wig is before chemotherapy starts. This way, you can match the wig to the colour and style of your hair. You might also take it to your hairdresser who can style the wig to look like your own hair. Make sure to choose a wig that feels comfortable and does not hurt your scalp.
- Be gentle when you wash your hair. Use a mild shampoo or a baby shampoo. Dry your hair by patting (not rubbing) it with a soft towel
Do not use items that can hurt your scalp. These include
- Straightening or curling irons
- Brush rollers or curlers
- Electric hair dryers
- Hair bands and clips
- Hair dyes
- Products to perm or relax your hair
After hair loss
- Protect your scalp. Your scalp may hurt during and after hair loss. Protect it by wearing a hat, turban, or scarf when you are outside. Try to avoid places that are very hot or very cold. Tanning beds and lying outside in the sun or cold air can cause damage to your skin. Always apply sun protection to protect your scalp.
- Stay warm. You may feel colder once you lose your hair. Wear a hat, turban, scarf, or wig to help you stay warm.
Sleep on a satin pillowcase. Satin creates less friction than cotton when you sleep on it, which makes satin pillowcases more comfortable.
- Talk about your feelings about hair loss. If you are very worried or upset, you might want to talk about these feelings with a doctor, nurse, family member, close friend, or someone who has had hair loss caused by cancer treatment.