What is cancer-related hair loss?

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How does cancer treatment affect your hair?

Hair loss can be emotionally distressing. Not all cancer treatments cause hair loss, and some people have only mild thinning that is noticeable only to them. Your doctor will be able to tell you whether hair loss is an expected side effect of your treatment.

Hair loss from chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can cause hair loss on all parts of the body, not just the head. Facial hair, arm and leg hair, underarm hair, and pubic hair all may be affected.

Not all chemotherapy medicines cause hair loss. Talk to your doctor about what you can expect.

Hair loss usually doesn't occur right away. More often, your hair will begin falling out within a few weeks after the start of treatment. Your hair may fall out gradually or in clumps. The hair that remains may be very dry or brittle.

Hair almost always starts growing back in 2 to 3 months. The new hair is usually very fine. Your hair may look different when it comes back. It may grow back with a different color or texture.

Hair loss from radiation

Radiation causes hair loss only on the part of your body that is being treated. For example, you will lose some or all of the hair on your head if you have radiation for a brain tumor. Or you will lose the hair on your leg if you are having radiation to your leg.

Hair loss usually doesn't occur right away. More often, your hair will begin falling out within a few weeks of treatment. After your hair starts falling out, it takes about a week for you to lose all the hair in the area where you are getting radiation.

Hair usually grows back within 3 to 6 months after falling out. But sometimes with very high dose of radiation, hair doesn't grow back. When hair does grow back, it may be a different color or texture.

How can a cooling cap help prevent hair loss from cancer treatment?

Ask your doctor if using a cooling cap could help prevent hair loss.

Cooling caps chill your scalp before, during, and after chemo treatments. Experts think that the cold may constrict, or narrow, the blood vessels of your scalp so that less chemo medicine gets to the area where the hair grows. The cold may also slow growth of the cells in the area so they are less affected by the chemo.

The cooling cap could help limit hair loss for some people who get certain types of chemo treatments. It doesn't seem that using a cooling cap makes your treatment less effective.

You can check with the place where you will get your chemo treatments to see if cooling caps are available. You may also be able to rent one and bring it with you.

There are several types of cooling caps. One type is a tight-fitting ice pack. Another type is a cap that has cold liquid circulating through it during treatment.

Using a cooling cap can be expensive. If you have insurance, check to see if it covers cooling caps.

Cancer: Preparing for Hair Loss From Chemotherapy

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.