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Hair loss and cancer treatment

Hair loss is one of the most well known side effects of cancer treatment. It is a common side effect of chemotherapy.
chemoterapy hair loss

Hormone therapy and biological therapies sometimes cause hair loss, but this is less common.
Radiotherapy makes the hair fall out in the treatment area. Hair in other parts of the body is not affected.

Cancer drugs

Some chemotherapy, biological therapy and hormone therapy drugs cause hair loss.  Some drugs thin your hair. But other drugs may cause complete hair loss.
Complete hair loss can happen gradually. Or hair may fall out fairly quickly, in clumps. You may also have thinning or loss of eyelashes, eyebrows and other body hair, including pubic hair.
If cancer drug treatment makes your hair fall out, it almost always grows back once your treatment has finished. This may take several months. Your hair will probably grow at the rate that is normal for you. By 4 to 6 months after chemotherapy it should have grown back fully. When it grows back, your hair may look the same as it was or may be thicker or thinner. Sometimes it can be a different colour, or curlier than it was before.


Radiotherapy to the head always causes some hair loss. Your hair will fall out in where the radiotherapy beams enter your head. You can also lose some hair on the opposite side, where the radiotherapy beams pass through.
After radiotherapy it may take more than 6 months for your hair to grow back. Hair re-growth may be patchy at first. For most people, hair usually grows back completely in time. But for some people it does not grow back completely and may stay patchy.

Tips on coping with hair loss

You may find that it helps to cut your hair very short before your treatment starts. This can help you to get used to seeing yourself with less hair or without hair. Having very short hair means that when it does start to come out, the change is not so dramatic. And you see less hair on your pillow and in the shower.
If all, or some, of your hair has fallen out you may decide to cover your head with a soft hat or scarf. This helps to protect your scalp from the sun and keeps your head warm in cold weather. You may need to wear a soft hat in bed to keep your head warm.
Other people prefer to wear a wig until their hair grows back. These days, wigs are very natural looking. Most people can’t tell that you are wearing one.

Your feelings about hair loss

Hair loss and hair thinning can be very stressful. Some people find it the hardest part of having cancer and its treatment. This is understandable because our appearance is closely linked to our feelings of self esteem. Trying to accept sudden changes in your looks can be very hard. It’s not unusual for people who have lost their hair to feel angry and depressed. You may feel worried about how your friends and family see you. And you may think that you are no longer as physically attractive to your partner.
If you are trying to cope with a change in your appearance, social activities can be more of a struggle. If you have children or grandchildren you may worry about how they feel about seeing you without hair. And you may worry about how their friends will see you, and how this may affect your children. It’s natural to worry about these things.
The important thing to remember is that the people closest to you will not see you any differently as a person. They will want to support you as much as they can, so it is important to tell them how you’re feeling. Talking things through can help you to feel less isolated and more able to cope.

Types of wigs

Before you make a decision about buying your wig, it’s important to understand the differences between the types of wigs that are available. Wigs are made from either
  • Man made (synthetic) wigs

    Synthetic wigs are a lot cheaper than real hair wigs. They can cost anywhere between £50 and £200. Most synthetic wigs come ready to wear in a wide variety of styles, lengths and colours. You don’t have to style them and they won’t get damaged in the rain. You can usually get your wig quite quickly after having your fitting.
    If all your hair has fallen out you can get sticky (adhesive) pads with your wig to stop it slipping. Some people say wearing these pads makes the wig feel more secure and helps them feel more confident. Acrylic wigs can be washed and they usually last between 6 and 9 months. This is usually plenty of time to allow your hair to grow back, although it may not be as long as it was before your treatment.
    Synthetic wigs should not be exposed to direct heat. It can melt the fibres and make the hair frizz. So don’t use a hair dryer or curling wand. And you’ll need to wash your wig in cold water.
  • Real hair wigs

    Real hair wigs are much more expensive than synthetic ones. The exact cost depends on where you buy the wig and its style and length. Prices range anywhere from £200 to £2000 for a top of the range, custom made wig. Despite the cost, some people prefer to have a real hair wig.
    Real hair wigs last much longer than synthetic ones – between 3 and 4 years. If you decide to have a real hair wig you need to have a fitting before, or soon after your treatment begins. It should then be ready when your hair begins to fall out.
    Some real hair wigs need to be styled and set by a hairdresser. If your wig needs to be cleaned professionally you may need to buy two, so you always have one to wear. Your wig stylist can tell you if your wig can be washed at home.
You can also get wigs that are made of both.

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