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How Long Does Hair Loss Last With Chemo or Radiation?

The reason chemotherapy and radiation are go-to treatments for many types of cancer is that they target and kill fast-growing cells, the type that makes cancer spread. Unfortunately, your hair is made up of fast-growing cells, too, and these treatments may not differentiate between evil cancer cells and the ones responsible for your luscious locks.

If your cancer calls for one of these two powerful, potentially life-saving treatments, it’s normal to wonder how it will affect you. At Choice Cancer Care, we diagnose and treat all kinds of cancer, but we never lose sight of you as a person. 

This personal approach means we care about every aspect of your treatment, including the side effects, such as hair loss.

We know that losing your hair can feel like adding insult to injury, so our team does our best to help you understand this common side effect of chemo and radiation and how you can prepare for it, face it, and transition out of it. 

Here are some of the most common questions our patients ask about cancer-related hair loss.

When will I start to lose hair?

Chemotherapy is a systemic drug, meaning it affects your whole body. Whether you take it orally or receive it through an IV, it gets into your bloodstream and travels throughout your body. 

Since chemotherapy drugs look for rapidly growing cells to attack, all the hair on your body is a potential target. That means you may lose hair on your head as well as your arms, legs, and pubic area. You may even lose your eyelashes and eyebrows. Chemotherapy-related hair loss typically kicks in about 2-4 weeks after you begin treatment.

Radiation is a little more discerning. It usually only causes hair loss only in the area of your treatment. Like chemo, radiation triggers hair loss in about 2-3 weeks. You may notice light shedding or big clumps falling out over the course of 7 days or so.

What can I do to prepare for hair loss?

This is a great question! It indicates that you want to be proactive and give yourself the best chance of facing this hardship with a positive attitude. That mindset will serve you well as you fight cancer.

The answer is that there are several ways to prepare for your eventual hair loss, including:

These steps won’t stop hair loss, but they can ease the transition and keep it from happening too quickly. 

Now is a good time to consider your hairstyle. If you want to rock the bald look, you might consider shaving your head now to avoid the shock of watching your hair gradually fall out. 

If you want to wear a wig, start shopping now, so you can match your natural hair color and have it ready for the day you need it.

There are also many head wraps and hats that help cancer patients face this phase with flair, so try on a few to see what suits you.

How do I care for my hairless head?

Your scalp is used to having a layer of hair to protect it from the sun, so make sure you slather plenty of broad-spectrum sunscreen on your exposed skin. Even with sunscreen, it's best to wear a hat or stay out of direct sunlight.

During the winter, the sun may be less of a problem, but the cold air brings its own set of issues. The hair on your head once bottled in the heat and kept you warm, so now it’s even more important to cover your scalp with a warm beanie.

When will my hair grow back?

It’s complicated. The answer, of course, depends on what type of treatment you undergo as well as all the unique variables that make you you, including genetics, age, hair type, and your personal hair growth cycles.

That said, it’s safe to say you can expect to see new hair growth about 2-3 months after chemotherapy and about 3-6 months after radiation.

Keep in mind that you may not recognize your hair when it returns. Some people who had straight hair might end up with curly hair. You may have had a thick head of hair prior to treatment, but may sport thinner locks afterwards. Many patients find their new hair is even a different color.

While most patients eventually get their hair back, there are some instances when a radiation dose is so strong it causes permanent hair loss.

To learn more about Choice Cancer Care and our personalized way of partnering with our patients, check out our Cancer Guide . To speak with one of our specialists, schedule a consultation at any of our Texas offices in Plano, Lewisville, Irving, Decatur, and Southlake. Call us today at 214-379-2700 or book online. 

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