Often the first question asked when confronted with a cancer diagnosis is, "Will I lose my hair?" Experts have told me this question is often asked before the larger question of "Will I die?"
Some women would rather opt for a less harsh chemotherapy in order to save their hair. If this is presented to you as an option, think long and hard about it and make sure you are making an informed choice that is best for the long-term result you want, which is saving your life.
Let's talk about hair loss from chemotherapy.
The scientific term is anagen effluvium -- anagen means the growth phase of the hair-growth cycle and effluvium means shedding. So hair is shedding as it's trying to grow. Why does this happen during chemotherapy? Because simply put, the chemicals you are putting into your body to fight the growing cancer cells, affect these growth cells as well. So after several cycles of cancer treatment (often weeks), your hair begins to fall out, sometimes by the handful as the growth phase is attacked. Since hair has to go through a resting, growing and shedding phase, the chemo is attacking the phase that produces hair.
While this can be devastating, you need to remember one thing -- it is temporary. Once your chemo is done, your hair growth cycle will begin again.
Along with your hair falling out, your scalp may become very sensitive and the hair remaining my become very dull and dry. Often, women opt to shave their heads and wear a scarf or wig. The BeauBeau makes beautiful scarves for women dealing with hair loss from chemotherapy. Recover with Confidence is a wonderful source for wigs, which are soft and natural feeling against sensitive skin.
But is there anything you can do to prevent hair loss?
According to the Mayo Clinic and other experts, there have been some attempts to stall or prevent hair loss by applying ice packs to slow the blood flow to the scalp, and may help some people. this method is called cyrotherapy or scalp hypothermia. They also suggest that using Rogaine (topical minoxidil) might help, but more for hair regrowth after chemo.
Essentially, though, if you are battling cancer, one of the victims in the battle may be your hair, but unlike other battles, where soldiers fall, your hair will come back and that's the good news.
Here are some tips for taking care of your hair and scalp during chemotherapy from the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society:
- Use a mild shampoo.
- Use a soft hairbrush.
- Use low heat when drying your hair.
- Don't use brush rollers to set your hair.
- Don't dye your hair or get a permanent.
- Have your hair cut short, which makes hair look thicker and fuller. It will also make hair loss easier to manager
- Use sunscreen, sunblock, hat, scarf, or wig to protect your scalp from the sun.
- Use a satin pillowcase.
While hair loss from cancer treatment is not easy to go through it is temporary. Your hair will grow back. It is the visible sign that you are waging a very serious battle. In fact, one woman I interviewed for my book, Breaking the Silence on Women's Hair Loss noted that "...the hair [loss] was a very visible expression of the destruction going on in my body as the drugs did their deed on any remaining cells."