Chemo Hair Loss: Why It Happens & What’s the Solution

Chemo Hair Loss: Why It Happens & What’s the Solution

While suffering from an illness, many people experience hair loss. Sometimes, hair loss occurs as a result of the stress and anxiety due to the ailment. However, at other times, it can occur as a result of the illness itself or even its treatment. Chemo hair loss is an example of the latter case.

Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment where medications are injected through a needle into the bloodstream of the patient (tablets, drips and capsules are also used) that target rapidly dividing cells to kill them. 

Chemotherapy drugs cannot differentiate between healthy cells and cancer cells, which is why it also ends up killing both. However, the treatment is necessary in some cases depending on different factors, such as if cancer has spread, what type of cancer it is, and how big it is.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of this treatment is chemotherapy hair loss. The person undergoing chemotherapy ends up losing all or some of the hair on their body.

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy makes use of drugs that target those cells in the body that are dividing and growing quickly. Cancer treatments are recommended if cancer has spread to the whole body of the person; removing cancerous mass through surgery or radiation limits the target area.

However, one accompanying side effect of chemo is that since it cannot differentiate between normal, healthy cells and cancerous cells, it can also cause damage to them. This can affect the hair, nails, bone marrow and intestines of the patient.

There are different modes of action of chemotherapy drugs. In any case, they damage the genes present in the nucleus of the cells. The drug can kill the cancerous cells as they’re about to divide to make new cells or when copies of genes are being made for the division of the cells.

This treatment usually takes place in combination with either surgery, radiotherapy or biological therapy. Chemo can take place before and after surgery/radiotherapy.

If done before, it can help reduce the size of the tumour, and if it takes place after the surgery/radiotherapy, it can help kill the remaining cancerous cells. For instance, breast cancer patients usually have chemotherapy after surgical removal of cancer to lower the risk of cancer coming back.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy 

The side effects of the treatment include:

  • Feeling weak, ill, and tired.
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of hair

For How Long Is Chemotherapy Given? 

The plan of chemo is devised depending on many factors, such as:

  • Size of the tumour
  • Type of cancer
  • Stage of cancer
  • Age of the patient
  • Body’s response to treatment

The chemotherapy treatment proceeds in cycles, where there’s a period of rest following treatment.

Depending on the patient’s response to the treatment, the plan can change. Since the complications of the treatment are too many, it is not administered on a daily basis. That is why it takes place in cycles. During the breaks, the body gets time to repair the damaged cells.

You might get chemotherapy treatment for a week, which can be followed by a rest period of three weeks. During the whole course of treatment, there can be many cycles included in your treatment plan.

In some cases, the rest period in a cycle is not that long, so the treatment is given more frequently to fight aggressively against cancer. However, the patient might experience a lot of difficulties as a result.

Chemo Hair Loss: Why Does It Occur? 

One of the most dreaded side effects after cancer diagnosis for both men and women is hair loss. Chemo hair loss can occur all over the body, including the scalp, eyebrows and eyelashes, and even pubic hair.

Since the hair is constantly growing due to the rapid division of the cells, it is targeted by chemotherapy drugs. As the treatment continues, you will continue to lose your hair for even a few weeks after the treatment is over.

How much chemotherapy is likely to cause hair loss depends on the kind of treatment you’re getting. Some people experience thinning as their hair falls, while others may lose them completely.

Chemo and hair loss can cause great distress. Many patients wear a wig during the treatment to hide their hair loss.

Does Chemo Hair Loss Always Occur?

People with cancer usually wonder if chemotherapy always causes hair loss. The answer to that is no. Chemotherapy uses a combination of different medications that intend to kill the cancer cells in the body.

The type of drugs administered in the body of the patient depends on the type of cancer they have. It then depends on that whether they will lose their hair or not. Some drugs do not make the patient lose their hair or make them barely lose it. However, you might notice your hair becoming thin and dull as a result of the treatment, even if you don’t lose it.

Is Chemo Hair Loss Permanent? 

Fortunately, you will not experience permanent hair loss. The side effects of the treatment will go away once you stop getting chemo. Very rarely you can experience permanent chemo hair loss. 

It’s best to consult your dermatologist on what you can do to better manage hair loss as a result of this treatment. However, you also need to check the recommended treatments with your oncologist as they might not be suitable for you. 

What’s Chemotherapy Hair Loss Timeline?

You will start losing hair after 1-3 weeks of the first treatment. Excessive shedding occurs 1-2 months into the treatment. This process isn’t always gradual. You can also have clumps of chemo hair loss. 

Keep in mind that the effects of these medications do not immediately leave the body. That is why your hair and scalp can be affected for a few weeks even after the treatment. So, you cannot expect hair growth to start taking place immediately after you’re done with chemotherapy.

Hair Regrowth Timeline After Chemotherapy Treatment

According to Breastcancer.org, the hair growth timeline after chemotherapy is as follows: 

  • The appearance of fine, soft hairs 3-4 weeks after the end of chemotherapy 
  • Growth of real hair after 1-1.5 months 
  • 1-inch hair growth after 2-3 months 
  • 2-3 inch hair growth after 3-6 months
  • 4-6 inch hair growth after 12 months. 

How To Stop Hair Loss From Chemotherapy?

Many people ask, “how to prevent hair loss during chemotherapy?” Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop hair loss during chemotherapy. The hair cells are destroyed by the drugs, which don’t allow for hair growth to take place.

Moreover, there are no hair care products available that can help prevent chemo hair loss. Even taking medications or hair loss supplements cannot help stop chemo hair loss. There also aren’t any natural ways to prevent hair loss during chemotherapy. 

Dealing With Hair Loss From Chemotherapy: What Can You Do After the Treatment?

After the treatment is over, many people want to know the ways in which they can deal with the chemo hair loss and promote regrowth. One of the best things that you can do is make sure that you’re eating well and wholesome foods. 

Some suggest that vitamin supplements can accelerate the hair growth cycle after the treatment, so you can try those out. However, talk to your doctor about it before taking them, 

Just keep in mind that you will need time to recover from chemo hair loss. It’s not going to happen that quickly, so you need to be patient. Meanwhile, you should make sure to be gentle with your hair. You can ask your doctor about some special shampoo recommendations and other hair products that can ensure your hair health.  

If you want to hide your head, you can also consider wearing wigs, scarves, and hats.

Can You Have Hair Transplant and PRP After Chemotherapy?

It is possible to have a hair transplant after you have had chemo. Your general condition must be stable after the chemotherapy for the surgery to take place. Also, you must be ready to have surgery. 

If your cancer hasn’t relapsed in a while and your tests are negative, you can have a hair transplant without any problems. It’s also advised that you talk with your oncologists if you decide to have a hair transplant.

There are some unpredictable risks associated with hair transplants after chemo. Hair transplant has a success rate of 90% on normal patients. However, we can’t guarantee a success rate for patients with a cancer history. 

The chemotherapeutic drugs can affect the skin, hormones, etc., of the patient. It is important that you know about these risks; discuss them with the surgeon before a hair transplant.

As far as PRP is concerned, you can have this treatment after chemotherapy. It can help promote the growth of your newly growing hair.

Summing It Up

Dealing with chemo hair loss is a part of cancer care treatment, even though it is very stressful. In most cases, hair grows back after cancer therapy is completed. 

You can look into different hair care treatments afterwards but make sure to do so after consulting a doctor. Your health is most important in cancer care, so you should take care of yourself. 

Reviewed and Approved by Dr. Hassan Soueid.

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