Cancer & Hair Loss — What to ExpectCancer & Hair Loss — What to Expect

Cancer & Hair Loss — What to Expect

If you were just diagnosed with cancer, losing your hair is probably the last thing on your mind. But as many patients move through their cancer care journey, they're surprised at the emotional impact hair thinning can cause.

If you're looking for answers regarding your cancer hair loss, look no further. Here's what you need to know about why you might lose your hair during chemotherapy treatment or radiation therapy, and the gentle hair products that can help nourish your hair during this challenging stage of life.

The Cancer and Hair Loss Connection

Why do many people suffer from hair loss when undergoing cancer treatment? Many people wrongly believe that their cancer is responsible for their shedding strands, but in reality, the steps you take to keep your body cancer-free can cause increased hair loss.

According to physician and health blogger Alice Williams, it's the treatment rather than cancer itself that can contribute to scalp irritation and lead to radiation and chemotherapy-induced alopecia. "Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can cause hair loss," she said. "This type of hair loss is usually temporary, and the hair will typically grow back after treatment is finished. However, some people may experience permanent hair loss as a result of cancer treatment."

This hair loss occurs because the treatment your health insurance company covers through your cancer care team will likely be chemotherapy or radiation, both of which have an impact on hair follicles.

Chemotherapy and radiation cause hair loss because they're designed to target rapidly growing cancer cells. However, they also impact other rapidly growing cells throughout the body, including normal cells that grow new hair of all types, from the hair on your head to armpit, body and pubic hair.

Although there are no treatments that have been proven to prevent hair loss during cancer treatment, there are some steps you can take that might be effective. Using scalp-cooling head coverings could reduce hair loss during treatment. In addition, applying a hair serum before your appointments might help encourage healthy hair once your treatment is over.

Read More: Nutrition Tips to Support Hair Growth After Cancer Treatment

Coping With Hair Loss

Dr. Williams said that treating your hair as gently as possible during your treatment is the best way to avoid hair loss.

"First, it is important to use gentle shampoo and conditioner," she said. "Be sure to avoid any hair care products that contain harsh chemicals or fragrances."

Making the switch to a mild shampoo and conditioner kit designed to support hair health is a great way to nourish your stressed strands. And stay away from harsh treatments like chemical curling or dyes during this time, which can lead to dry skin. Stick to your natural hair color and texture until your treatment is completed.

When it comes to hair styling, Dr. Williams recommends a natural approach. "It is important to avoid heat stylings, such as blow drying or flat ironing," she said. "Instead, let the hair air dry or style it with cool air."

Put away your hair dryer and curling irons, and replace your harsh brushing routine with a soft brush or wide tooth comb that can gently detangle hair and stimulate blood flow.

"Patients should be sure to cover their scalp when outdoors to protect it from the sun," said Dr. Williams. Use a soft towel or head covering to ensure your strands are shielded from UV rays and environmental pollutants which can increase oxidative stress on your strands.

In addition to adopting new hair care habits, if your hair has begun to shed, many physicians recommend sleeping in a hair net to reduce the emotional impact of seeing loose hair all over your pillow in the morning.

Because cancer treatment can have such an emotional impact, Dr. Williams and other experts recommend connecting with one of the many support groups that exist to help cancer patients process their experience and learn to thrive after treatment is completed. Speaking to experts and fellow cancer survivors is an incredible way to build community and find the resources you need to feel supported during this difficult time.

The Long-Term Effects of Cancer-Induced Hair Loss

While most of the impact on your strands will happen during treatment, Dr. Williams said that the long-term impacts of cancer care might continue for longer than most patients anticipate. Some cancer patients hope their hair will be able to immediately reset after their treatment is completed, but Dr. Williams said the reality is more complicated.

"Patients should also expect some long-term effects after cancer treatment," she said. "Hair loss may continue for several months after treatment ends, and the texture of the hair may change. The good news is that most of these effects are temporary, and the hair will eventually return to its pre-treatment state."

According to breast cancer experts, most people can expect their hair regrowth after cancer treatment to be complete within a few months. Here are the markers they say to look out for as your hair regrowth journey begins:

  • Soft fuzz should begin growing 3-4 weeks after you end treatment
  • Real hair starts to regrow between 4-6 weeks
  • An inch of new hair growth within 2-3 months
  • 2-3 inches of new hair growth within six months to a year
  • 4-6 inches of new hair growth within 2 years

If your hair continues to shed for a long time after your treatment is completed, or hasn't made meaningful growth within a few months, it's a good idea to check in with the physician who oversaw your care.

While the majority of people will be able to regrow hair after their treatment is completed, there are some lifestyle factors and mitigating effects that might impact your body's ability to regrow hair. Your physician will be able to help you figure out what the issue is, and get your growth gains back on track.

Read More: Why Does Chemotherapy Cause Hair Loss?

Supporting Hair Regrowth

As your hair regrowth journey unfolds over the course of a year, there are steps you can take to ensure your strands are stronger and healthier than ever before.

First, consider an all-natural hair care routine that will nurture hair wellness from the inside out without any harsh side effects. This complete kit contains everything your strands need to thrive. There's a gentle shampoo and conditioner to nourish your strands with vegan ingredients, plus a dry shampoo and styling gel so you can support strands during the styling process. The kit also features a hair-boosting serum, a scalp cleansing scrub and even supplements to ensure you aren't experiencing any nutritional gaps. Basically, it's everything you need to get your hair health back on track.

It's important to remember that your diet has a major impact on hair health. To support your strands, ensure you're consuming everything you need to regrow healthy, happy hair. Leafy greens like spinach, fruits high in vitamin C like guava, beta carotene-boosting veggies like sweet potatoes and high protein foods like lentils and nuts are all your friend.

Last but not least, avoid any and all additional sources of stress. If you're still dealing with the emotional fallout of your cancer experience, make sure you're going to therapy, connecting with your community and doing lots of good, high-quality self-care to get your mental health back on track.

Read More: What You Should Know About Radiation & Hair Loss

Cancer and Hair Loss: The Takeaway

Dealing with cancer-induced hair loss is never easy. But through good communication with your medical team, a healthy diet and gentle hair care that nourishes your strands from the inside out, you'll be back to your old familiar locks before you know it.


Photo credit: Michelle Leman/Pexels

Disclaimer: Information in this article is intended for general informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician.