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Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy

Hair Loss Information

The biochemical process, through which cancerous cells reproduce and grow in the body, is similar to the way healthy body cells actively reproduce.  The "growing" stage in the hair root cycle, and the abnormal growth of cancer cells, are very much alike.

Real hair growth only takes place in the hair folicle (the root). The root shaft builds the shaft for a period of time, then rest for a period of time.  Then, it begins producing hair again.


Cancer is a condition of uncontrolled cell growth, anticancer drugs aim at reducing, or stopping, this abnormal growth.  Anticancer drugs work on both normal cells and cancer cells alike.  Cells which reproduce most rapidly are the most likely to be destroyed.  Some normal cells - such as hair folicles - also divide rapidly, which is why they are aslo affected by chemotherapy.


Science has not yet discerned how to make today's drugs able to distinguish between rapidly reducing normal cells and abnormal cells.

The Effects of Anticancer Drugs on Your Hair:

At any one time, about 85% of the hair folicles are reproducing on the human scalp.  This is why chemotherapy drugs attack your hair cells.  Their purpose is to attack and destroy the rapidly repoducing cancer cells, but may have the same effect on your active hair cells.


Radiation destroys the ablity of all cells within its reach to grow and reproduce. Cancer cells are more sensitive to radiation than normal cells.  Radiation is limited to where the radiaion is received.  If there is radiation to the neck and head area one possible side effect can be hair loss.


You may temporarily lose some or all of your hair.  In most cases your hair will start growing again after you've finished your treatments.

Hair Loss Alternatives

Losing your hair isn't easy, and may take some time to get used to.  


Some people choose to cover their heads with a hat, scarf, or turban.  Others prefer to replace their hair.  You can choose a fashionable wig, or you can choose a prosthetic hair system.


With wigs you can look the way you like.  Wigs can even enhance your self image.  Human hair wigs can be expensive and need more servicing. While some synthetic wigs can be more or less expensive, they are easier to style, wash easily, dry quickly, and need less care.


Hair prostheses are the latest technological advance in replacing hair.  They are made to meet the specific needs of the patient.  They are form fitted to become part of you and designed to be styled as though it were your own hair. Prosthetic hair washes easily, dries quickly, and needs minimal care.

A good idea is to get a wig or prosthetic before the effects of your treatment are obvious.  Your look is left up to you: get one styled to look like you, or get a different style all together.  Wigs or hair prosthesis may be a tax deductible medical expense, and is sometimes covered by your insurance.  Some hospitals, clinics, and organizations have free wig programs or can help offset the costs.

Hair Regrowth-What to expect:

Hair loss is temporary because chemotherapy and radiation act on the new cells being produced, not on the hair folicles.  Hair growth will return once the therapy is discontinued.


In the mean time, take better-than-routine care of your hair and scalp during therapy.

  • Shampoo regularly (every 2 to 4 days)

  • Avoid high heat, such as dryers and combs, in drying or styling your hair.

  • Comb or brush gently to minimize undue strain on your hair. (Try a baby hairbrush with soft bristles.)

  • Avoid braids, corn-rows, or naturals.

  • Do not sleep with rollers in your hair.

  • Consider using a satin pillowcase. This will reduce friction between your hair and the pillowcase.

  • Keep hair and scalp clean with gentle products.

  • Don't believe the myth that covering your head can impede future hair growth.  It doesn't

  • Above all-stay away from any kind of harsh chemical treatments such as coloring, permanent waving.

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