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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Hair loss

Cancer and hair loss (alopecia)

Some cancer treatments may cause you to lose some or all of your hair (alopecia). For instance, while chemotherapy attacks rapidly-growing cancer cells, some chemotherapy drugs may also damage healthy cells, such as hair follicles. The loss of hair may include scalp, facial, axillary, pubic and body hair. Radiation therapy may cause hair loss in the area that is treated.

Some people experience hair loss and others do not, or to varying degrees, even when they are undergoing the same treatment. If hair loss does occur, it usually begins within two weeks of starting treatment like chemotherapy and gets worse one to two months after the start of therapy.

Fortunately, hair will almost always grow back after treatment is complete. Regrowth usually occurs in six to eight weeks after completion of therapy. It is common for hair to grow back a slightly different color and texture at first.

Tips for dealing with hair loss

  • If you decide on a wig or hairpiece, have it ready in advance before hair loss occurs. This way, you can match it to your natural hair color, style and texture.
  • Try scarves, caps, turbans or hats as an alternative to wigs and hairpieces, or simply leaving your head uncovered.
  • If you have long hair, consider getting a stylish short cut.
  • Use a soft bristle brush and avoid too much brushing or pulling of hair (avoid braiding or placing hair in a pony tail).
  • Use mild, gentle shampoos and conditioners (e.g., Johnson’s Baby Shampoo). Rinse your hair thoroughly and gently pat dry to avoid damaging your hair.
  • Avoid coloring, perming or relaxing the hair.
  • Avoid using hair dryers, electric rollers or curling irons.
  • Limit the use of hair clips, barrettes, elastic bands, bobby pins and hair sprays.
  • Use sunscreen/sunblock or wear a hat/scarf to protect your scalp from the sun.
  • In cold weather, wear a hat/scarf outdoors to prevent loss of body heat.
  • Sleep on a satin pillowcase.

NOTE: This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to making decisions about your treatment.