The word alone creates fear and
confusion. Patients face not only
the uncertainty of their disease,
but also the anxiety of
treatment—particularly hair loss.
article provides facts about the
relationship between chemotherapy,
radiation therapy and hair loss. Its
aim is to provide you with the
information you need, using
non-medical language, to understand
what is happening to your hair, and
Chemotherapy consists of the
administration of drugs that destroy
rapidly reproducing cancer cells.
Cancer cells are some of the most
rapidly reproducing cells in the
body, but other cells, such as those
contribute to the formation of hair
shafts and nails, are also rapidly
reproducing. Unfortunately, while
chemotherapy drugs preferentially
destroy cancer cells, the drugs also
can destroy those cells responsible
for normal growth of hair and nails.
Cancer patients sometimes shed the
hair and nails during treatment.
Chemotherapy drugs are poisonous to
the cells of the hair root
responsible for hair shaft
formation. Usually, the hair is lost
rapidly in large quantities during
hair growth stimulants, shampoos,
conditioners, or other cosmetic
treatments can prevent or retard
chemotherapy related hair loss.
The good news, however, is that once
chemotherapy is completed, the hair
usually grows back. This "grow
back" period can take anywhere from
12 to 18 months.
WHAT ABOUT INSURANCE?
• Your insurance may
cover the cost of a
medical wig or hair
hair system). Be sure to
check with your
insurance agent to find
out about your exact
coverage and benefits.
Hair grows from the root, from the
hair follicle, where a constant
process of cell division occurs.
Amino acids taken from blood feeding
the follicle join with dividing
cells, resulting in cell chains.
Eventually these cell chains link up
with one another, resulting in a
long fiber. At this point, the
nucleus of the original cell is
dead, and the amino acids have
formed into a hard keratin.
is a protein, and it is the
substance our hair and nails are
made from. It is a lifeless
substance that results from the
“pushing” of newly forming cells in
the follicle. As the keratin protein
is pushed out, our hair grows from
the root. The growth of our hair
follows a cyclical pattern that is
one of the body’s most active
“growing” processes: building shafts
of hair for a period of time, and
Cancer is a condition of
uncontrolled cell growth.
Anti-cancer drug administration aims
to reduce or stop this process.
However, anti-cancer drugs act on
both normal and cancerous cells, and
are most likely to destroy cells
that reproduce quickly. Hair
follicles divide rapidly, which is
why they are affected by
chemotherapy. At any one time, about
85% of scalp hair follicles are
a variety of drugs are used for
chemotherapy treatment, hair loss
depends upon the type prescribed and
the dosage. Not all chemotherapy
causes hair loss and, except in rare
instances, hair loss is temporary.
When treatment is completed, the
hair follicles will resume
processing amino acids from your
blood and creating new hair for you.
Radiation therapy employs
high-energy radiation to inhibit the
growth and division of cancer cells.
It destroys all cells’ ability to
grow and multiply in the area of
application; however, cancer cells
are more sensitive to radiation than
normal cells. If treatment is
applied as a cancer cell is about to
reproduce it will prevent the cell
from doing so, and the cell will
die. Still, radiation therapy can
sometimes affect normal tissue,
causing side effects. One possible
result of treatments to the head and
neck is hair loss. Some or all of
your hair in the area being treated
may be lost. But, in most cases,
hair growth will resume at the end
of the treatment cycle.
Ahead for Your Treatment
you will lose all of your hair when
you begin chemotherapy treatment. By
doing so your advance planning will
assist you considerably. (Custom
made wigs and prosthetics may
take from 6 weeks to 4 months to be
delivered and made for you.)
first wig or prosthesis should
duplicate your hair as closely as
possible. (Be conservative in color,
length, thickness and style.)
chemotherapy related hair loss avoid
the following: weaves, hair
extensions, hair integration and
intensifiers. You will require
a full prosthesis and not a partial
Hair Loss Alternatives
There are several options for
dealing with hair loss once it
occurs. You may choose to cover your
head with a hat, scarf or turban.
Or, you may choose to replace your
hair either with a
medical wig or a
prosthetic hair system.
choose to replace your hair, you’ll
be happy to know that fake-looking
wigs are a thing of the past.
New technologies have made both
human hair wigs and
synthetic wigs appear highly
realistic because they can be fitted
to the shape of your head.
Human hair wigs are typically
more expensive and require more
maintenance. Synthetic wigs are less
expensive (although some special
models are more expensive), and are
easier to style and wash. Synthetic
wigs also dry more quickly, and
require less care.