Cancer Treatment and Hair Loss Explained
When a client is diagnosed with cancer, hairdressers can often be a close port of call to provide support as they lose their hair. Here, the experts share what you need to know about hair loss during cancer treatment.
What causes hair loss during cancer treatment?
“Hair loss is a secondary effect of chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, or a stem cell (bone marrow) transplant,” says Nioxin trichologist Mark Blake. “However, hair loss is different for everyone, and they might only lose sections of it.” Depending on the treatment, clients can experience differing changes to their hair.
“Not all chemotherapy causes hair loss, but some chemotherapy drugs are more likely to cause hair loss or thinning,” says Mark.
Radiation therapy only affects the hair where the radiation is aimed.
“Hair loss with this type of treatment depends on the strength of the dose and the method of radiation therapy,” says Mark. “When very high doses of radiation therapy are used, the hair may never grow back.”
“Cancer medications called targeted therapy do not cause complete hair loss. But some targeted therapies may cause hair to become thinner, curlier, or drier than usual,” explains Mark.
“Hormonal therapy doesn’t always cause complete hair loss,” says Mark. “Sometimes it may cause a patient’s hair just to get thinner over a period of months to years after starting treatment.”
When can hair loss be expected during cancer treatment?
“Hair loss usually begins 10 to 14 days after the first treatment and it is common for the scalp to feel sore and tender around the time of initial hair loss,” says Jasmin Julia Gupta, founder of the charity service Cancer HairCare.
Cutting hair short can alleviate discomfort and some clients may prefer to cut their hair shorter as their treatment commences.
“Advise on a shorter hairstyle as any hair loss will look less dramatic, also when the hair starts to regrow it will take less time to get the client’s hairstyle back,” advises Mark. “If your client wants their hair shaved when their hair starts to fall out, offer to do this as I don’t think their partner should do this as it’s just too emotional for a loved one,” he adds.
It can also be beneficial if the client can have scalp cooling during their treatment, which can help keep around 50% of their hair, says Mark. “Scalp cooling is not always appropriate so the client’s oncologist will advise on its suitability. However, it isn’t always offered even when it can be used,” he says.
How long does it take for hair to grow back?
“On average, hair begins to grow back post-chemotherapy treatment between 0-3 months,” says Jasmin. “A lot of people notice that their new hair grows back curly – or in ‘chemo curls’. This is thought to be
because the hair follicle can slightly collapse during hair loss so, when it reforms, the hair follicle can take on a new shape, becoming a different hair texture,” she says. “With external beam radiotherapy to the scalp area, it can take up to three times as long for the hair follicle to recover, so clients are looking at between 0-9 month for new hair growth and there could be permanent hair loss.”
Hair can also grow back drier, thinner, coarser, curlier, or even a different colour and texture.