Drugs that damage or destroy cancer cells also affect normal cells. Rapidly dividing cells, such as hair follicle cells, are the most affected. This is why hair loss (alopecia) is a common side effect of chemotherapy. Hair loss can range from thinning to baldness. It may be sudden or slow. You may also lose hair from other areas of your body such as eyelashes and eyebrows.
Hair usually grows back after treatment ends. The thickness, texture or color of hair may be different when it grows back.
Side effects do not always happen and can be different for each patient, depending on the drug(s), amount of drug, length of treatment, how each patient reacts, and the presence of other health problems.
Ways to Cope with Hair Loss
- Wash your hair and scalp every 2-4 days, using a mild, moisturizing shampoo and/or conditioner.
- Continue to comb or brush your hair. Not combing or washing your hair will not prevent hair loss.
- If you have long hair, consider getting a short haircut or shaving your head before hair loss begins. Some patients find that this makes it easier to cope with hair loss.
- Avoid perms, chemical relaxers, permanent hair dyes, and bleach, which can damage the hair and irritate the scalp.
- Avoid using straighteners, curling irons or other hot tools, which can damage your hair.
- Avoid styling hair in tight braids or ponytails which can cause breakage.
- If you're planning to buy a wig, save some locks of your hair so your natural color and texture can be matched more easily.
- Wear a bandanna, hat or scarf to keep your head warm if you choose not to wear a wig.
- Apply mineral oil to your scalp to ease dryness.
- Use a makeup pencil to draw on eyebrows, if desired.
- Download or order The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's free factsheet, Side-Effect Management: Caring for Skin, Nails, Hair and Mouth.