Chemotherapy hair loss is often considered an inevitable part of the cancer treatment process and although warnings are issued, it is a distressing event which the patient is never quite prepared for. Furthermore, natural-looking artificial hair wigs may be hard to come by and expensive, leaving patients with fewer hair options during treatment. In today’s blog we’re going to look at the process of hair loss during cancer treatment and explore the options for hair retention and hair care during cancer treatment.
Does hair loss always occur with cancer treatment?
No, chemotherapy hair loss does not always occur and it’s important to differentiate with which cancer drugs it does. According to Cancer Research UK, complete or partial/patchy hair loss is only likely with chemotherapy, when the effects of cytotoxic drugs cause hair loss through necrosis of the existing hair cells. With hormone treatment or with biological therapies, hair thinning rather than full alopecia is more likely.
At what stage during treatment does chemotherapy hair loss occur?
Chemotherapy hair loss tends to occur between two and three weeks into chemotherapy. Balding can continue throughout the chemotherapy until the treatment stops, at which point the hair, in almost all cases, starts to grow back. This is of course dependent on the cancer treatment having been successful enough to cease further chemotherapy sessions and to place the patient in a process of recovery or ‘remission.’
What can I do to keep my hair during cancer treatment?
There is a well-known and popular solution to cancer treatment alopecia called ‘scalp cooling.’ This involves wearing a cold head device to actively bring down the temperature of the scalp. It is not known however if this method will work until the patient tries it and while results have been positive, there is no way to measure its success rate.
Cold cap for hair loss – an overview
What: a cold cap is an icy gel-filled cap strapped snuggly around the head in order to cool the scalp for up to an hour before chemotherapy. Bringing the temperature of the scalp down makes the blood vessels around the hair follicles temporarily smaller, discouraging the anti-cancer drugs from flowing around them and causing hair follicle damage. It is reported to be fairly uncomfortable eventually, due to the temperature, however not acutely painful.
Who for: Cancer patients suffering from certain types of cancer such as breast cancer. It is not suitable for use with haematological cancers such as myeloma or leukaemia as there is a high risk of cancer cells surviving in the blood vessels of the scalp and causing the cancer to come back after treatment. Many patients such as Londoner Keren Lerner have written their experiences online about scalp cooling and the results.
When: As soon as chemotherapy starts and before each session as long as treatment continues. The cool cap naturally gets warmer with wear so it needs to be replaced every 20-30 minutes or so during the session. Sometimes the cooling may be administered via a pump machine which means staying in the same place and not needing to replace the cap.
Hair care for cancer patients – 3 tips
There are some simple ways cancer patients can look after thinning hair during treatment, even if they are already using the cold cap.
Gentle shampoos – baby shampoos are recommended for use during treatment to preserve and care for hair
No dying or harsh styling – causing stress to already fragile hair follicles will encourage loss
Gentle brushing – again using baby products will suffice on the styling front and prevent any further loss
The Wimpole clinic has experience providing chemotherapy hair loss solutions for post-cancer patients in the case that regrowth does not occur or is inconsistent.
We are a fully supportive, discreet and experienced clinic who’s aim is to restore a head or face of hair exactly as is desired by the individual. If you would like to discuss how The Wimpole Clinic could help you with hair loss issues following cancer treatment, get in touch with us here.