Why can chemotherapy make your hair fall out?

The aim of chemotherapy is to attack cancer cells that grow quickly. Unfortunately chemotherapy can also attack other rapidly growing cells in your body like your hair follicles. When hair follicles are damaged, your hair will fall out.

Will my hair fall out? When will it happen and how much of it will I lose?

If you are getting chemotherapy, it is likely that the hair on your head will start to come out about two weeks after your first treatment. The hair loss will continue over several days, weeks or even months.

Hair loss varies from person to person. The type and dosage of the drugs you are receiving and the duration of your treatment can affect how much hair you lose and where you lose it. You may or may not lose hair on other parts of your body, including eyebrows, eyelashes, underarm hair, and pubic hair.

I bought a lovely wig, but ended up only wearing it four times! I was more comfortable in a scarf or toque.

What can I do to help cope with hair loss?

You may want to consider cutting your hair quite short before your chemotherapy treatment begins, so that the hair loss won’t be as traumatic to you. This may also give you a sense of control over the situation.

Some women who have lost their hair find that they are comfortable going out in public without their heads covered, while others may choose to keep their head covered. If you are considering a wig, you may want to shop for it before you lose your hair so that you can find one that matches your current hairstyle and color. Hats and headscarves are another popular option, as they can be more convenient and comfortable than wigs.

Where can I find a wig?

For a wig that is comfortable and fits you properly, it is best to go to a wig salon that has experience working with clients who have hair loss due to chemotherapy or other medical treatments. Your hospital or cancer centre can often provide you with a recommended list of wig salons.

Generally, you must pay for the full cost of your wig. Private insurance companies may reimburse you for a portion or the full cost of the wig – check with your insurer. Some communities may have “wig banks” which provide free wigs or wigs to loan for people who cannot afford to buy one.

The Canadian Cancer Society can help you find out what options are available to you. Please call us, toll-free, at 1-888-778-3100 or send us a message.

When will my hair grow back?

You can expect your hair to start growing back about three to four weeks after your treatment ends. It generally grows back half an inch per month.

Will my hair be different?

The hair that grows back after chemotherapy treatment may be different. For example, it may be a slightly different colour or texture, or it may be curlier. Any difference is usually temporary.

When can I colour or perm my hair?

The new hair that grows in after chemotherapy tends to be more fragile. It is generally recommended that may you wait about 6 months after finishing your chemotherapy treatments before colouring or perming your hair. This will allow your hair to become stronger and not be damaged by the chemicals in these products.

Links to more information

Hair, Skin, and Nails

Breast Cancer and Hair Loss
Breast Cancer Care UK

Hair Loss during Breast Cancer Treatment
Breast Cancer Network Australia

Coping with Hair Loss
Macmillan Cancer Support

Hair Loss, Hair Thinning and Cancer Drugs
Cancer Research UK

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