Hair loss (alopecia)

Some chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy can cause hair loss ranging from complete to thinning or patchy loss.

Hair loss can be very distressing. It’s important to remember that in most cases, hair will regrow after your treatment finishes.

What causes hair loss during cancer treatment?

Chemotherapy attacks rapidly dividing cells and hair follicles are particularly susceptible. The occurrence and extent of your hair loss depends on the drug dose and route.

What are the signs you may be experiencing hair loss?

Chemotherapy induced hair loss commonly occurs two to three weeks after the start of treatment. Symptoms can range from thinning of the hair shaft, hair breakage, partial hair loss to total hair loss. Hair regrowth takes approximately three to five months. In very rare cases hair may not regrow. Some people experience changes in the characteristics of their regrown hair, including different colour, texture or patchiness (more common with radiation therapy).

How can hair loss be prevented/managed?

Before treatment begins, your care team will talk to you about the risk of hair loss relevant to your recommended treatment. You will be able to discuss how hair loss will impact you and have opportunities to access counselling and psychological support before, during and after cancer treatment.

There are a number of strategies you can try to help you manage the impact of hair loss, including:

  • considering cutting long hair short
  • selecting a wig prior to hair loss to help match the colour/style
  • maintaining gentle hair care, using mild shampoos and soft hairbrushes
  • avoiding dyeing, perming and colouring agents
  • avoiding using hair straighteners, curlers and hair dryers
  • wearing a hat or scarf to protect scalp from cold
  • wearing a hat and/or sunscreen to protect scalp from heat
  • using soft linen, such as a satin or satin-like pillow case

Scalp cooling may help reduce hair loss while undergoing chemotherapy treatment, however there is minimal evidence to suggest that it works for everyone as a preventative measure and it shouldn’t be used for some cancers. Scalp cooling is offered at a number of our centres. Talk to your care team to see if scalp cooling could be an option for you.

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