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Cancer and Hair Loss

By: Jody Ehrhardt - Updated: 18 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Hair Loss Cancer Cancer Treatment

Hair loss as a result of cancer and cancer treatments can be devastating to your self-esteem as well as emotionally distressing. However, with the proper understanding, preparation and attitude this unfortunate side effect can be tolerated and conquered.

Cancer Treatments that Cause Hair Loss

Hair growth occurs in hair follicles found inside the pores of the skin. As Hair Ages it eventually falls out but is immediately replaced with new hair growth. If the hair follicle becomes damaged in any way, hair growth is temporarily or sometimes Permanently Stopped. Although cancer does not usually cause hair loss or damage to hair follicles, the treatments that are needed for curing the disease often do.

Chemotherapy and radiation are both cancer treatments that can cause hair loss. With chemotherapy, powerful drugs are pumped through the body to attack cancer cells. With radiation, high-energy rays are focused on the cancer cells in order to destroy them. Chemotherapy can result in hair loss when the drugs used to kill the cancer cells also destroy the healthy cells that make up the hair follicle. Radiation, on the other hand, usually only causes hair loss when the treatment must be used on the scalp and when it is directly focused on hair follicles or areas that contain them.

With both forms of cancer treatment, hair loss severity and symptoms can vary from individual to individual. This hair loss can occur only on the scalp or on the entire body, it can happen rapidly or the hair can come out in spurts over a few weeks time. Hair loss can also be complete or it can happen only in patches leaving some hair behind. No matter how it affects you personally, hair loss due to chemotherapy can usually be seen one to two weeks after treatment has begun.

With radiation, the hair loss usually begins after the first treatment.

Although some hair loss or thinning is to be expected, there are a few steps that you can take to reduce the severity of this side effect or put off its onset.

Ways to Help Reduce Hair Loss

In most cases, it will be impossible to prevent hair loss due to cancer treatments. However, with a few lifestyle changes you may be able to reduce the amount of hair you lose or lengthen the time it takes for your hair to fall out.

The easiest way to reduce hair loss from chemotherapy or radiation is to change your hair care routine. Since your scalp and hair will be more susceptible to damage once you begin treatment, it is imperative that you start being gentler with your hair right away. Choose a mild shampoo that does not contain alcohol or other drying ingredients. Choose a conditioner or hair treatment that provides hydration for both the scalp and hair. Never comb or brush your hair when it is wet and once dry only use a wide-toothed comb or soft bristled brush to prevent hair pulling and breakage.

Before and during cancer treatment you should also avoid using curling irons or blow dryers, as these tools can over-dry your hair and cause breakage. You should also avoid the use of headbands, rubber bands, or other hair adornments that pull hair tight. Finally, you should never braid, colour, or perm your hair during cancer treatment.

Aside from changes in your hair care routine, you can also make changes to your diet to help control or reduce hair loss. A diet that lacks essential minerals and nutrients can lead to dry, unhealthy hair. So can the consumption of Alcoholic Beverages. To help keep hair strong and full enjoy a Healthy Diet rich in raw fruits and vegetables and limit or eliminate your alcohol intake.

To further boost your hair loss reduction efforts you can also try massaging your scalp once or twice a day to increase circulation and blood flow to the area and try taking a supplement of 1000 IU of vitamin E each day. However, it is best to talk to your doctor before beginning either of these techniques in case they can interfere with your treatment.

Once you have begun efforts to reduce hair loss it is time to start looking to the future and devise your plan for hair re-growth.

Looking Towards the Future

If you are undergoing chemotherapy for your cancer treatment, you may begin to notice new hair growth before your therapy ends. However, with radiation treatment, hair growth does not usually resume until about 6 to 9 months after treatment has been completed.

Once your hair begins to grow in, you may notice that it is not as thick or full as it was before treatment. This can be a temporary side effect or it may be permanent. You may also notice that your new hair is not the same colour or shade as your lost hair was. And, in some cases, hair that used to be curly will now be straight, or vice versa. Even though these changes may cause some concern, they are a completely natural part of the re-growth process. It is best to embrace these changes, accept the colour, texture and feel of your new hair and celebrate your victory over hair loss.

While cancer and the hair loss that results from its treatment can be difficult to manage, you can conquer both conditions with treatment and the right attitude.

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I had cervical cancer stage 2B , it was pretty severe, my hair has never ( at least not yet) grown back normally? How long andwill it ever grow back normal? I went through Chemo therapy as well, my radiation was so intense that I had to have my bowels removed cuz they were fried? When will my body ( if ever ) regain normality. I am going into my doctor for my 1 1/2 year check up.Thanks
laurie - 5-Apr-11 @ 7:02 PM
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